Suddenly feeling dizzy can be a scary experience. Not only does this understandably cause you to question your health and whether something might be wrong with you, but it can also potentially cause you to fall and injure yourself further. If it comes on when you’re commuting to work on your own during rush hour, or when you’re descending down a flight of stairs, you might be at risk of falling and even getting trampled.
There are many causes of dizziness however and most are relatively harmless – as long as you sit down while it passes. Being able to identify the specific kind of dizziness that’s affecting you is important nevertheless in order to rule out any serious health issues as well as to successfully treat the symptoms.
Types of Dizziness
Before we go any further, it’s useful to consider first the various different kinds of dizziness. These include:
Vertigo: This is the feeling of motion where there isn’t any motion. Vertigo often feels as though the world is ‘spinning’ and is the type of dizziness that often occurs as a result of drinking alcohol. In chronic cases, vertigo is more likely to be caused by issues with the vestibular system of the inner ear.
Lightheadedness: Lightheadedness is technically known as syncope. This is the feeling that we experience just before fainting. It is often caused by standing up too quickly or by low blood pressure. Rapid breathing can also lead to lightheadedness, which may be brought on by anxiety.
Disequilibrium: In disequilibrium, the patient feels as though they are about to fall over when walking and will be unsteady on their feet. They may feel fine when sitting or lying down.
Causes of Vertigo
Vertigo can be caused by conditions affecting the inner ear. The most common form of vertigo is known as BPPV, which is ‘benign paroxysmal positional vertigo’, a chronic condition that causes the sudden, brief sensation of spinning following rapid head movements. BPPV often goes away on its own but otherwise treatments such as ‘canalith repositioning’ may be useful in restoring equilibrium.
Viral infections affecting the nerve can also lead to vertigo. This will likely also cause other symptoms such as flu-like signs. Meniere’s disease is meanwhile caused by a buildup of fluids in the inner ear. This causes long lasting instances of vertigo that may last up to several hours. Meniere’s disease may also cause hearing loss, tinnitus and the feeling of a plugged ear. There is no known cure, though there are ways to manage the condition.
Vertigo may also be caused by migraines, which can have all manner of side effects. Migraines can also cause symptoms such as dizziness even when there is no associated pain. In some cases, though not all, this form of vertigo may also be associated with sensitivity to light and noise.
Circulation and Lightheadedness
When you feel light headed, this is more often related to disruptions in circulation that prevent enough blood and oxygen from reaching the brain. These can be either temporary or chronic.
Several things can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure for instance or can temporarily starve the brain of oxygen. Breathing too rapidly during stressful events is one such cause for instance, as is standing up very suddenly. If you have a condition such as cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia or very low blood pressure, then this can also cause dizziness, as can heart attack or transient ischemic attack.
We also tend to feel dizzy when we lose a lot of blood, which is why it’s important to sit down if you’ve had an accident or even after giving blood. Anemia (low iron) also may cause lightheadedness.
Other causes of dizziness include neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, some of which cause disequilibrium. Overheating and dehydration also cause dizziness, as do some medications including antidepressants and sedatives.
If you experience dizziness of any kind and you’re unsure of the cause, then it’s always wise to check with your doctor who should be able to advise the best way to move forward.