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What can cause dizziness?

Dizziness is a disorienting sensation where one's surroundings seem to spin or sway, often accompanied by unsteadiness or lightheadedness. It can give rise to a feeling of losing balance or a disconnect between body and environment. 

Common causes of dizziness include:

  • Inner ear issues: Problems with the inner ear, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis, and Meniere's disease, can disrupt the body's sense of balance and lead to dizziness.

  • Vestibular disorders: Disorders affecting the vestibular system, which controls balance and spatial orientation, can result in dizziness. Conditions like vestibular migraines and vestibular neuritis fall into this category.

  • Dehydration: Inadequate fluid intake can lead to decreased blood volume and low blood pressure, triggering dizziness.

  • Anemia: A deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood can impair oxygen delivery to the brain, causing dizziness.

  • Low blood sugar: A sudden drop in blood sugar levels, often seen in individuals with diabetes, can result in dizziness.

  • Medication side effects: Some medications may have dizziness as a side effect, especially those that affect blood pressure or alter brain chemistry.

  • Cardiovascular issues: Conditions like arrhythmias, heart attack, or poor circulation can disrupt blood flow to the brain, leading to dizziness.

  • Neurological disorders: Neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease can interfere with the brain's ability to process sensory information, causing dizziness.

  • Anxiety and stress: Intense stress and anxiety can trigger dizziness through effects on the nervous system and blood flow.

  • Ear infections: Infections in the ear, particularly the middle ear, can impact equilibrium and contribute to dizziness.

  • Motion sickness: Dizziness can result from conflicting sensory signals when the inner ear perceives motion but the eyes do not.

  • Low blood pressure: Abrupt changes in blood pressure, such as when standing up too quickly, can cause temporary dizziness.


What are the types of dizziness?

Dizziness can manifest in various forms, each with its own characteristics. Some common types of dizziness include:

  • Vertigo is a sensation of spinning or rotational movement, as if you or your surroundings are moving even when they're not. It's often associated with inner ear issues, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or Meniere's disease.

  • Lightheadedness is a feeling of near-fainting or almost losing consciousness. It can be caused by factors like low blood pressure, dehydration, anemia, or sudden position changes.

  • Presyncope is a state of feeling faint or woozy, often accompanied by a drop in blood pressure. It's typically caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.

  • Disequilibrium involves a loss of balance or unsteadiness, making you feel as if you might fall. It can result from conditions affecting the inner ear, nerves, or musculoskeletal system.

  • Some people experience a sensation of floating or being disconnected from the ground. This can be related to inner ear disturbances or neurological issues.

  • Unsteadiness refers to a constant feeling of imbalance, making it challenging to maintain a stable posture or gait. It can be caused by problems with the vestibular system or musculoskeletal issues.

  • Psychogenic dizziness is primarily related to psychological factors, such as anxiety, panic attacks, or hyperventilation. It may not have a clear physiological cause.

  • Motion sickness occurs when there's a conflict between visual input and the inner ear's perception of motion. It's common during travel, especially in vehicles or boats.

  • Visual vertigo is triggered by visual stimuli, such as patterns, crowds, or certain environments. It often occurs in individuals with vestibular disorders.

  • Cervicogenic dizziness, caused by issues in the neck (cervical spine), can lead to symptoms of unsteadiness and may be related to neck pain or injury.


It's important to understand the specific characteristics of your dizziness and seek medical evaluation from a Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care provider if you experience persistent or severe symptoms. Identifying the type of dizziness can aid in determining its underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

Medical treatments for dizziness

Relief from dizziness can be achieved through various treatment options, depending on the underlying cause. Here are some approaches that can help alleviate dizziness:

  • Vestibular rehabilitation: This specialized physical therapy aims to improve balance and reduce dizziness by retraining the brain to process sensory information from the vestibular system and other senses.

  • Medications: Certain medications can be prescribed to manage specific causes of dizziness. For example, antihistamines may help with motion sickness, while vestibular suppressants can alleviate symptoms of vertigo.

  • Epley Maneuver: This technique is used to treat benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) by repositioning displaced crystals within the inner ear, helping to restore balance.

  • Hydration and diet: Ensuring proper hydration and maintaining a balanced diet can prevent dizziness caused by dehydration, low blood sugar, or anemia.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Adjustments to daily habits, such as avoiding triggers for motion sickness or managing stress, can significantly reduce the frequency of dizziness.

  • Surgery: In cases of severe or persistent dizziness caused by structural issues, surgical interventions may be considered. Surgical procedures can range from repairing inner ear damage to decompression of nerves.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help individuals cope with dizziness related to anxiety or panic disorders by addressing the psychological factors contributing to their symptoms.

  • Positional exercises: Specific exercises can be performed to alleviate dizziness related to certain head movements or positions, as seen in BPPV.

  • Earwax removal: In some cases, dizziness may be caused by excessive earwax buildup, which can be resolved through safe removal procedures.

  • Treatment of underlying conditions: Addressing underlying health conditions such as Meniere's disease, vestibular migraines, or neurological disorders can help manage dizziness.

  • Stress reduction techniques: Mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques can help manage stress-induced dizziness.

  • Physical activity: Engaging in regular physical activity can improve overall balance and reduce dizziness, especially in cases of age-related balance issues.


When to seek care for dizziness

  • Severe or prolonged dizziness

  • Sudden onset

  • Falls or loss of consciousness

  • New or unexplained symptoms

  • Underlying health conditions

  • Medication side effects

  • Recurrent episodes

  • Persistent anxiety

  • Worsening symptoms

  • Uncertainty


What is the connection between stress and dizziness?

Stress can significantly impact various bodily systems, including the nervous system, which can lead to dizziness and related sensations. Here's how stress can contribute to dizziness:

  • Autonomic nervous system response: Stress triggers the body's "fight or flight" response, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This can lead to changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow, potentially causing lightheadedness or dizziness.

  • Hyperventilation: During periods of stress, rapid and shallow breathing (hyperventilation) can occur. This can disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, leading to dizziness and tingling sensations.

  • Blood pressure fluctuations: Stress can lead to temporary spikes or drops in blood pressure, which may result in dizziness or a feeling of unsteadiness.

  • Muscle tension: Stress often causes muscle tension, particularly in the neck and shoulders. This tension can restrict blood flow to the head and brain, potentially leading to dizziness.

  • Vestibular system sensitivity: Stress may increase the sensitivity of the vestibular system, which plays a crucial role in balance and spatial orientation. This heightened sensitivity can contribute to sensations of dizziness.

  • Anxiety and panic attacks: Chronic stress and anxiety disorders can trigger panic attacks, which may include symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, and a racing heart.

  • Circulatory changes: Stress can lead to changes in blood vessel constriction and dilation, affecting blood flow to the brain and potentially causing dizziness.

  • Depleted energy levels: Prolonged stress can lead to fatigue and exhaustion, which may contribute to feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness.

  • Psychological impact: Dizziness itself can be distressing, and the fear of experiencing dizziness in certain situations can create a cycle of stress and anxiety, further exacerbating the problem.


Tips for managing dizziness

  • Stay hydrated: Drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration levels, which can help prevent dizziness caused by dehydration.

  • Balanced diet: Consume a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients, including iron, vitamins, and minerals, to support overall health and reduce the risk of dizziness.

  • Regular meals: Eat regular meals and healthy snacks to stabilize blood sugar levels, minimizing the likelihood of dizziness due to low blood sugar.

  • Avoid triggers: Identify and avoid triggers that worsen your dizziness, such as sudden movements, bright lights, or specific foods.

  • Proper rest: Ensure you get adequate sleep to prevent fatigue, which can contribute to dizziness. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule and create a comfortable sleeping environment.

  • Mindful movements: Perform slow and deliberate movements, especially when getting up from lying down or sitting. This can help prevent sudden drops in blood pressure that may lead to dizziness.

  • Vestibular exercises: Engage in prescribed vestibular exercises or balance training routines as recommended by a healthcare professional.

  • Mindfulness and relaxation: Practice mindfulness techniques, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to manage stress and anxiety, which can contribute to dizziness.

  • Adequate lighting: Ensure proper lighting in your environment, especially at night, to reduce the risk of falls and disorientation.

  • Supportive footwear: Wear stable and comfortable footwear that provides good support, particularly when walking on uneven surfaces.

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol: Reduce or moderate caffeine and alcohol intake, as excessive consumption can contribute to dehydration and exacerbate dizziness.

  • Manage stress: Engage in stress-reducing activities such as yoga, tai chi, or spending time in nature to promote relaxation and emotional well-being.

  • Avoid rapid head movements: Minimize sudden head movements or rapid changes in position to prevent triggering dizziness, especially if you're prone to vertigo.

  • Stay active: Engage in regular, gentle physical activity to improve overall circulation, balance, and muscle strength.

  • Stay cool: In hot weather, stay cool and well-ventilated to prevent overheating, which can lead to dizziness.

  • Medication management: If you're on medications that may cause dizziness as a side effect, take them as prescribed and discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

  • Regular check-ups: Attend routine medical appointments to monitor and manage any underlying health conditions that could contribute to dizziness.

If dizziness persists or worsens despite following these tips, consult a Baylor St. Luke's Medical Group primary care provider for further guidance.

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