Overview

Dizziness is a common symptom that’s not usually a sign of anything serious, but should be checked out by a doctor.

The term ‘dizziness’ means different things to different people: some use it to describe feeling lightheaded or off balance, while others use it to describe a feeling that their surroundings are spinning.

Because the symptom is quite vague and can be caused by a wide range of factors, it may not always be easy to identify the underlying cause of dizziness.

This page explains what you should do if you feel dizzy for no apparent reason, and outlines the most common causes.

Seeing your GP 

If you are feeling lightheaded or off balance and are worried, see your GP, especially if you also have other symptoms such as fainting episodes or headaches.

Your GP will first want to establish exactly what you mean by dizziness, and check that you are not actually describing vertigo, a severe type of dizziness where you feel that your surroundings are spinning or moving.

They’ll want to know:

  • whether the dizziness started for no apparent reason, or if it followed an illness
  • whether you have repeated episodes of dizziness and, if so, when you tend to experience these
  • how long the dizziness lasts

Dizziness can sometimes be caused by an ear condition. A simple way for your GP to distinguish between ear-related dizziness and dizziness due to other causes is to ask if it occurs only when you are upright, or even when you're lying down.

Dizziness that occurs when you're upright is probably not related to the ear. Dizziness that happens when you're lying down is usually caused by a viral ear infection, which can't be treated with antibiotics.

It’s a good idea to keep a diary of your dizziness, recording when and where you experience the problem, and take it with you to your GP appointment. It's helpful to note:

what you were doing at the time of your dizziness

how long it lasted and how bad it was

whether you had any other symptoms – such as fainting, vomiting, nausea, blurred vision, headache, hearing loss or tinnitus

 

If you're taking prescription medicine, your GP will probably review this to check whether dizziness is a possible side effect. If necessary, they can prescribe a different medication for you to try.

You may be referred to a specialist for further tests and investigations.

Common causes of dizziness

The most common causes of dizziness are outlined below:

  •  Labyrinthitis - an inner ear infection that affects your hearing and balance, and can lead to a severe form of dizziness called vertigo
  • Migraine – dizziness may come on before or after the headache, or even without the headache.
  • Stress or anxiety, especially if you tend to hyperventilate (breathe abnormally quickly when resting).
  • low blood sugar level (hypoglycaemia), which is usually seen in people with diabetes
  • A sudden fall in blood pressure when you suddenly sit or stand up, which goes away after lying down – this is know as postural hypotension and is more common in older people
  • Dehydration or heat exhaustion - dehydration could be due to not drinking enough during exercise, or illness that causes vomiting, diarrhoea or fever
  • Decreased blood flow in the back of the brain, called vertebrobasilar insufficiency – the blood vessels leading to the brain from the heart may be blocked (known as atherosclerosis)

You can click on the above links for more information on these conditions.

Less common causes of dizziness

These include:

Click on the above links for more information on these conditions.

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Selected links

NHS Direct Wales links

Falls

Vertigo

Labyrinthitis

External links

Brain and Spine Foundation: dizziness

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 05/03/2015 12:39:03