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What is dizziness?

Dizziness is a term used to describe a feeling of being off balance or unsteady. Common causes of dizziness are an inner ear fluid imbalance or a lack of oxygen in your blood. Dizziness may be acute (lasts 3 days or less) or chronic (lasts longer than 3 days). You may have dizzy spells that last from seconds to a few hours.

What increases my risk for dizziness?

Dizziness may get worse during certain activities or when you move a certain way. Your risk for dizziness may increase as you age. You become more easily affected by infection and a decrease in vision, hearing, and motor skills. The following may also increase your risk for dizziness:

  • An infection, ear surgery, or an inner ear condition, such as Ménière disease
  • Stroke, a brain tumor, or a recent head trauma
  • An injury that causes a large amount of blood loss
  • Heart or blood pressure problems
  • Exposure to chemicals, or long-term alcohol use
  • Medicines used to treat high blood pressure, seizure disorders, or anxiety and depression
  • A nerve disorder, such as multiple sclerosis

What signs and symptoms are related to dizziness?

  • A feeling that your surroundings are moving even though you are standing still
  • Ringing in your ears or hearing loss
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded
  • Weakness or unsteadiness
  • Double vision or eye movements you cannot control
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion

How is the cause of dizziness diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may ask when the dizziness started. Tell him if you have dizzy spells, and how long they last. Tell him what happens before you become dizzy. He will ask if you have other health conditions and if you take any medicines. He will check your blood pressure and pulse to see if your dizziness may be related to your heart. He may check your balance, strength, reflexes, and the way you walk. You may also need any of the following tests to help find the cause of your dizziness:

  • An EKG records the electrical activity of your heart to check for problems.
  • Blood tests will show if your blood sugar level is low, you have an infection, or you are losing blood.
  • CT or MRI pictures of your brain may show if you have had a stroke or head injury. The pictures may also show a tumor or other problem in your brain. You may be given contrast liquid to help your brain show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is dizziness treated?

Treatment will depend on the cause of your dizziness. Your healthcare provider may give you oxygen or medicines to decrease your dizziness and nausea. He may also refer you to a specialist. You may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery when you are dizzy.
  • Get up slowly from sitting or lying down.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a headache that does not go away with medicine.
  • You have shaking chills and a fever.
  • You vomit over and over with no relief.
  • Your vomit or bowel movements are red or black.
  • You have pain in your chest, back, or abdomen.
  • You have numbness, especially in your face, arms, or legs.
  • You have trouble moving your arms or legs.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your symptoms are not getting better with treatment.
  • Your neck is stiff.
  • You are confused.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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