written by: Roohi Khan
• edited by: Emma Lloyd
• updated: 8/6/2011
Did you know that the causes of dizzy spells depend on the sensation you are experiencing? Find out more about the common causes of dizziness in this article.
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Almost every one of us has experienced dizzy spells at some point in our lives. Some may have felt faint, some lightheaded, and some others may have just felt weak and unsteady. Even the feeling that you or the things around you are spinning or moving is a form of dizziness. Let's have a look at some of the reasons that could be responsible for your dizziness.
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Causes of Dizziness
The reasons of a dizzy spell can usually be identified on the basis of the sensation experienced by the individual. So, the cause will depend on whether you are feeling faint, experiencing vertigo, or feeling a loss of balance. Let's have a look at the possible causes of these three different sensations in detail.
When an individual feels faint or lightheaded but does not really lose consciousness, he or she is supposed to be feeling faint. The medical term for this condition is presyncope. This feeling may also be accompanied by pale skin, nausea, and clammy hands or feet.
One of the most common causes of lightheadedness is a sudden drop in the systolic blood pressure, which is the higher number in your blood pressure reading. If you sit up or stand up too quickly, your blood pressure may drop and you may feel faint.
Another common cause of lightheadedness is when the blood flow from the heart is not sufficient. There are certain conditions of the heart that may be responsible for this. These include diseases such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, or a decrease in blood volume. These conditions are usually accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, racing heart, change in vision, and a loss of speech.
Dehydration is another possible cause of lightheadedness. This can occur due to various reasons including vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
Conditions such as flu, hypoglycemia, common cold, and allergies are also often accompanied by a feeling of faintness.
Loss of Balance
When you experience a feeling of unsteadiness while walking, you are experiencing loss of balance or disequilibrium. This sensation of dizziness may occur due to abnormalities in the inner ear, when it often occurs in the dark.
Older adults often have poor vision and nerve damage in their legs, which could cause loss of balance.
Anyone who has muscle weakness or any condition that affects the joints may experience a loss of balance. This usually occurs when the weight-bearing joints such as the knees are affected.
There are certain neurological conditions that can also cause disequilibrium. These include Parkinson's disease (a disorder of the central nervous system), cerebellar ataxia (an ataxia that originates in the cerebellum), and spinal cord disorders.
This sensation of dizziness is also often a side-effect of anti-seizure drugs, sedatives, and tranquilizers.
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When you or your surroundings seem to spin or move around when there is actually no movement, the sensation is referred as vertigo. Causes of vertigo are usually related to the inner ear or the vestibular system of an individual. The inner ear has nerves and structures that sense movement and changes in the head position. Any kind of problem with the vestibular system can cause vertigo.
One of the causes of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. It usually occurs if you turn over in the bed or sit up in the morning or change the position of your head.
Labyrinthitis is an ear disorder that causes swelling in the inner ear and sudden hearing loss. It usually occurs after a cold or flu and is a common cause of vertigo.
Another disease that is a possible cause of vertigo is Meniere's disease. It is characterized by an excessive buildup of fluid in the inner ear and involves episodes that can last from 30 minutes to several hours.
Other conditions that are common causes of vertigo include migrainous vertigo and acoustic neuroma. When accompanying a migraine headache, this sensation of dizziness is referred as migainous vertigo.
On the other hand, acoustic neuroma is a benign growth on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain and is accompanied by hearing loss and tinnitus.
Although it is rare, stroke, brain hemorrhage, or multiple sclerosis may also cause vertigo. However, in these cases, it is often accompanied by other symptoms such as double vision, slurred speech, or facial numbness.
Other Common Sensations of Dizziness
Some people report sensations of floating, swimming, or heavy-headedness. The causes of these dizziness sensations may include blood pressure lowering medications, inner ear disorders, and anxiety disorders such as panic attacks or phobias.
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When to Consult a Physician
As you can see, there can be many causes of dizzy spells and they often do not require any treatment. However, some causes of dizziness can be serious and may require emergency treatment. These include head injuries, convulsions, chest pain, inability to move an arm or leg, or change in vision or speech. You should also consult a physician if these sensations are worse than before, you have never ever experienced them before, or if you have any hearing loss.