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Dizziness: Why Do I Feel Dizzy & When to Seek Medical Help

Understand your dizziness symptoms with Buoy, including 9 causes and common questions concerning your dizziness.

Dizziness symptoms

Do you remember the giddy feeling of whirling around as a child, trying to make yourself dizzy? Dizziness can feel like this or lightheadedness, or can be characterized by instability and confusion when you stand up from a sitting position. However, its unlikely that as we age we continue to chase this feeling, or regain our balance quite as quickly.

Dizziness can be caused simply by sitting too long or too much, or by a more serious disorder, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or adrenal fatigue and hormonal burnout, which cause chronic fatigue and dizziness.

Common characteristics of dizziness

Dizziness typically makes you feel:

  • Lightheaded
  • Unsteady on your feet
  • Clammy, woozy, and nauseous
  • Like you might pass out or faint
  • As if your pulse is racing

Dizziness symptoms every once in a while, are not uncommon. But chronic dizziness can indicate that a medical condition of some kind is at work.

Let's look at some of the causes of dizziness, both non-threatening and more serious.

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Dizziness causes

Our ability to balance (to move without falling) is largely directed by the structure and function of the inner ear. The inner ear contains fluid and hair-like sensors that can detect when the head moves up and down, back and forth, or tilts from side to side.


Blockages or damage to the inner ear (called the vestibular system) can disrupt your sense of balance, causing a feeling of dizziness called "vertigo" in the medical community. Vertigo is most noticeable when you change your position, especially moving from sitting to a standing position. Over time, vertigo can worsen, causing difficulty achieving balance when standing and walking.

Presyncope dizziness

Dizziness that results in fainting, falling, wooziness, and blurry vision when standing is formally called "presyncope." With presyncope dizziness, people typically experience dizziness that is accompanied by nausea and stomach upset, clammy hands, sweating, and a racing pulse. Presyncope dizziness is caused by:

  • Vitamin deficiencies: Especially in iron or B12, both of which can cause anemia
  • Hypoglycemia: Also known as low blood sugar. You'll want to see a doctor about this condition, as he/she can help you strategize a diet that will help alleviate your dizziness.


Dizziness can also be caused by anxiety, especially in the case of panic attacks.


Dizziness can also be caused by certain medications such as blood pressure lowering medications, anti-depressants, diuretics, and some antibiotics. In fact, a wide range of medications can cause dizziness when you first start taking them or if your dose needs to be adjusted.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is a common cause of vertigo –dizziness whenever the position of the head is significantly changed.

BPPV may occur after a head injury, whether minor or serious; or it can be caused by inner ear damage, which affects balance.

Most susceptible are women over 50, though it can happen to anyone at any age.

Symptoms include mild to intense dizziness or spinning; loss of balance; nausea; and sometimes vomiting. Flickering, jerking eye movements called nystagmus often occur at the same time.

Though BPPV is not dangerous in itself, it can cause falls and interfere with quality of life. If the dizziness occurs with severe headache, vision changes, trouble speaking, or paralysis, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, particularly looking for nystagmus. Specialized eye tests and imaging may be done.

BPPV may eventually resolve on its own. If not, therapy to adjust the sensitivity of the inner ear may be done, and in some cases surgery is effective.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, episodic dizziness, vomiting, vertigo (extreme dizziness), dizziness

Symptoms that always occur with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: episodic dizziness

Symptoms that never occur with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: hearing loss, heartbeat sound in the ear, ringing in the ears

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Dehydration means the body does not have enough water to carry out its normal processes.

Most susceptible to serious dehydration are young children with fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. In adults, some medications increase urination and can lead to dehydration. Anyone exercising vigorously, especially in hot weather, can quickly become dehydrated.

Symptoms include extreme thirst; dry mouth; infrequent, dark-colored urine; dizziness; and confusion. Young children may have sunken eyes, cheeks, and soft spot on top of the skull.

Severe dehydration is a serious medical emergency that can lead to heat stroke, kidney damage, seizures, coma, and death. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through blood tests and urine tests.

Mild dehydration can be treated simply by drinking extra water, or water with electrolytes such as sports drinks. More serious cases may be hospitalized for intravenous fluids.

It's important for anyone who is outside in hot weather, or who is ill, to drink extra fluids even before feeling thirsty as thirst is not always a reliable guide.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, dizziness, vomiting or diarrhea, racing heart beat, being severely ill

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Iron deficiency anemia

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough iron to form hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

The condition can be caused by acute blood loss through injury, surgery, or childbirth;chronic b...

Meniere's disease

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects balance and hearing.

Meniere's disease is due to an abnormality in the inner ear that results in low levels of fluid, thus interfering with the sense of balance. The abnormality may be hereditary or it could be from allergies, autoimmune disease, or other illness.

Symptoms usually affect only one ear and include severe attacks of vertigo, or the sensation of spinning; tinnitus, or ringing in the ear; pressure inside the ear; and increasing deafness. These symptoms are unpredictable and can come and go without warning.

Meniere's disease is progressive and will not go away on its own. It can lead to a severe loss of hearing and balance, and so a medical provider should be seen at the earliest symptoms.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; hearing tests; and balance tests.

There is no cure for Meniere's disease, but it can be treated with motion sickness and anti-nausea medicines, hearing aids, and occasionally surgery.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, ringing in the ears, vertigo (extreme dizziness), ear fullness/pressure, brief fainting episode

Symptoms that always occur with meniere's disease: dizziness: at least 2 episodes

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Congestive heart failure

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is no longer able to effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure can affect the right side, left side, or both sides of the heart. It can be subcategorized as "heart failure with preserved ejection f...

Inner ear infection (labyrinthitis)

An inner ear infection, also called labyrinthitis, affects the delicate bony structures deep within the ear.

Labyrinthitis usually follows a viral infection such as the common cold, influenza, mumps, or the measles. In rare cases, usually in young children, it can be caused by bacteria.

Risk factors include a middle ear infection; meningitis; or any autoimmune disorder.

Symptoms include vertigo, where the person feels that the world is spinning around them; nausea and vomiting; some loss of hearing; ear pain, sometimes with drainage from the ear canal; and ringing in the ears (tinnitus.)

Viral symptoms may at least partially resolve on their own, but treatment can rule out a more serious condition as well as address the pain and discomfort. Bacterial labyrinthitis is often more serious and can cause permanent hearing loss.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes a hearing test.

Treatment for viral labyrinthitis includes rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Antibiotics will be prescribed for bacterial labyrinthitis.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: nausea, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, fever

Symptoms that always occur with inner ear infection (labyrinthitis): vertigo or imbalance

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)

Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.

Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.

Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.

A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.

Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck

Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness

Urgency: Emergency medical service

Vestibular dysfunction

The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, vestibular dysfunction can result. People with vestibular dysfunction usually get light headed, or lose balance easily. It can also result from or be worsened by genetic or environmental conditions, or occur for unknown reasons.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: nausea, vertigo (extreme dizziness)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) characterized by a rapid rate and irregular rhythm that feels like the heart is quivering. It can lead to chest discomfort, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, and the formation of blood clots, which can cause...

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Dizziness treatments and relief

Treatment for vertigo-related dizziness symptoms

Dizziness caused by vertigo usually goes away on its own after a few days. During those few days, it may be difficult to function and fulfill your responsibilities at home, school, and work.

  • Rest: You will feel best if you try to remain as still and as immobile as possible, resting on a couch or bed if you can.
  • Assistive devices: You may want to get a walker or cane to assist you in getting around and prevent to falls.

If you must be up and about, there are some medications that can help. Anticholinergic drugs, such as meclizine, work by blocking some of the activity in your nervous system so that you can balance.

Dizziness caused by underlying medical conditions

Dizziness caused by medical conditions cannot be resolved until the medical condition is addressed. This kind of dizziness, called non-vestibular dizziness, is a symptom of an underlying condition, and will persist until that condition is treated. Your healthcare provider can help you identify and address what is causing your dizziness symptoms. Anemia should improve after several weeks of taking a daily iron or B12 supplement. Vegetarians are especially susceptible to iron and B12 deficient anemia, as these nutrients are found chiefly in red meat, egg yolks, and cheeses.

Dizziness caused by medication

Contact your healthcare provider if you believe your medication is causing dizziness. The fix may be as simple as adjusting your medication dose. If not, there might be an effective alternative medication one that doesn't make you feel like the room is spinning.

Dizziness caused by lifestyle and behavior

Overall, if your dizziness is not caused by a medical condition, there is a fair chance you're simply sitting too long. Perhaps you're working at a desk for long hours, without getting up to get your blood flowing and heart rate normalized. Researchers advise a three-minute walk every hour spent sitting to keep you ultimately healthy.

When dizziness is an emergency

It is important to seek immediate medical care if dizziness symptoms are accompanied by:

FAQs about dizziness

Here are some frequently asked questions about dizziness.

What causes dizziness?

Dizziness can be caused by many different bodily systems. Most commonly, it can be caused by dehydration or by making transitional movements, such as from lying to sitting or sitting to standing. It can also be caused by any condition temporarily reducing blood flow to the brain stem. It may also be caused by problems within the nervous system that affect the cerebellum, vestibulocochlear nerve, or cerebral cortex.

What causes dizzy spells?

Dizzy spells can be caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the brain, an error in firing of nerves within the brain, trauma to the head, or any number of foods or medications. It is most commonly caused by dehydration, but if an individual has prior diagnoses of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or any neurological issue and is experiencing repeated dizziness that does not respond to adequate hydration, they should seek medical care.

Why am I lightheaded and dizzy?

Dizziness can come from a wide variety of causes, and if the dizziness is not alleviated by adequate hydration and is continual or recurrent over a long period of time, an individual should alert a health professional and seek a proper evaluation. The most common causes of dizziness are inadequate hydration and/or abnormal blood pressure regulation.

What causes dizziness upon standing?

When you stand, your heart and cardiovascular system has to pump with more force to counteract the force of gravity causing blood to pool in the legs. To do this the heart rate speeds up and blood vessels constrict. If these measures are inadequate to help channel blood to the brain, and the brain receives inadequate blood, a person may experience temporary dizziness. Usually, sitting for a period and rehydrating can help a person regain stability.

Questions your doctor may ask about dizziness

  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Do you hear a ringing or whistling sound no one else hears?
  • Which statement fits your dizziness most?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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