We’ve all had the occasional bout with dizziness. You stood up too fast, you forgot you weren’t 10 and rode the roller-coaster, or maybe skipping breakfast left you feeling a little lightheaded. Dizziness is an uncomfortable and scary sensation, and is one of the most common reasons for ER visits. An estimated 15 percent of people suffer from dizziness each year, with older people more prone to it.
“Most of the time, we tell patients dizziness is not a cause for alarm,” says Mary Devers, MD, medical director for Kansas City Care Now Urgent Care Centers. “It will generally go away on its own or with rest. If it doesn’t go away in a reasonably short period of time, it’s a good idea to talk with your physician about further evaluation.”
Dizziness can be caused by multiple factors including dehydration, getting too hot, an infection, medication side effect, vertigo or some other health condition. Understanding what triggered the dizziness can help you and your doctor figure out what’s going on, and in certain situations may serve as a warning sign that you need fast care.
Your topsy is my turvy – how dizzy “feels”
Doctors say dizziness is one of those catch-all terms that can mean a lot of different sensations, most of which fall into three main groups:
- Vertigo – when it feels like you’re in motion or the room is spinning
- Being off-balance or unsteady
- Feeling faint or lightheaded
“Dizziness means different things to different people,” Dr. Devers explains. “Sometimes it’s hard for people to describe how they’re feeling. But being able to describe it can help your doctor diagnose what may be wrong.”
Why your world is spinning – Common causes of dizziness
There are lots of causes of dizziness, but some of the more common ones include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common kind of vertigo, can be caused by movement as simple as rolling over in bed, or bending over, or by an accident where you hit your head. The movement or hitting your head causes tiny crystals in your inner ear that help you maintain your equilibrium to move out of their space and throw off your balance.
- Some inner ear infections can cause you to have temporary vertigo. It often is resolved once the infection has been treated or is gone.
- Ménière's Disease, is a condition of the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance.
- Migraine – Some people can experience dizziness or vertigo even without a severe headache.
- Other causes include:
- Drop in blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Heat stroke
- Low iron or anemia
- Medication side effects
Stop the ride, I want off – When to see your doctor
In general, if dizziness lasts longer than a few days, or is severe enough to keep you from normal activities, you should talk with your doctor. Depending on the cause, there are medications and physical therapy options that may give you some relief. Answering some basic questions may help your doctor determine why you’re dizzy:
- Are you feeling faint or lightheaded?
- Do you feel woozy or heavy-headed?
- Are you weak, off-balance or unsteady?
- Do you feel dizzier when you stand up or move your head?
- Is it better when you lie down?
- Is the dizziness making you nauseous?
When dizziness is an emergency
“The majority of dizzy spells are nothing to worry about, “stresses Dr. Devers. “But it’s important to know when it really does signal something so you can get the care you need.”
If you have dizziness with any of the following symptoms, you should call 911 or get to the emergency room right away as they could be signs of a more serious condition.
- A recent head injury
- A headache that is different and much more severe than your normal headache
- Blurred or double vision
- Trouble speaking
- Weakness in your arms or legs
- Sudden hearing loss
- Difficulty speaking
- Falling or trouble walking
- Chest pain or rapid heartbeat
- Fainting or loss of consciousness
- Tingling or numbness
- Constant vertigo that isn't brought on by head motion
- Sudden onset that persists longer than a few seconds
Other conditions to note
People with a history of certain health issues should go to the ER with dizziness, even if they are not experiencing other symptoms.
- If you have had a stroke or are at high risk for a stroke
- If you have heart disease
- If you are 55 or older
- If you have a history of fainting associated with dizziness
Spin Control – Expert medical care for dizziness
The physicians and staff of HCA Midwest Health emergency rooms are highly skilled at diagnosing and treating severe dizzy spells and knowing when dizziness might signal something more serious. We have 11 ERs across the metro area, with each of our hospitals recognized for excellence in stroke care. We also have five accredited chest pain centers in the Kansas City area with expertise in heart attacks and other cardiac issues. For times when you may not feel it’s an emergency, our eight CareNow locations provide a wide range of services with the convenience of extended hours, walk-in visits, and online Web-Check In®.