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What causes dizziness? 84 possible conditions

What Is Dizziness?

Dizziness is the feeling of being lightheaded, woozy, or unbalanced. It affects the sensory organs, specifically eyes and ears. It can cause fainting. Dizziness is not a disease but a symptom of other disorders.

Vertigo and disequilibrium may cause a feeling of dizziness, but those two terms describe different symptoms. Vertigo is characterized by a feeling of spinning. Disequilibrium is a loss of balance or equilibrium. True dizziness is the feeling of lightheadedness or nearly fainting.

Dizziness is common. The underlying cause of dizziness is usually not serious. Occasional dizziness is nothing to worry about.

Seek medical attention if you have recurring bouts of dizziness with no apparent cause. Also seek immediate help if you experience sudden dizziness along with a head injury, a headache, neck ache, blurred vision, hearing loss, a loss of motor ability, a loss of consciousness, or chest pain. These could indicate serious issues.

What Causes Dizziness?

Common causes of dizziness include inner-ear disorders, medications, and alcohol.

Dizziness is often a result of vertigo. It can also be caused by a problem in the inner ear, where balance is regulated. The most common cause of vertigo and vertigo-related dizziness is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This causes short-term dizziness when a person changes positions quickly—for instance, when sitting up in bed.

Dizziness and vertigo can also be caused by Meniere’s disease (which causes fluid buildup in the ear), migraine, or acoustic neuroma, a benign growth on the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain. Very rarely, vertigo could be caused by a stroke, brain hemorrhage, multiple sclerosis, or another neurological disorder.

Other causes of dizziness include:

  • sudden drop in blood pressure, as may occur upon standing suddenly
  • heart muscle disease
  • decrease in blood volume
  • neurological conditions
  • side effect from medications
  • anxiety disorders
  • anemia (low iron)
  • hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • ear infection
  • dehydration
  • heat stroke
  • excessive exercise
  • motion sickness

What Are the Symptoms of Dizziness?

Symptoms of dizziness include:

  • lightheadedness
  • vertigo (spinning motion)
  • unsteadiness
  • loss of balance
  • sensation of floating or swimming
  • heavy-headedness
  • spaciness

Sometimes dizziness is accompanied by clamminess, nausea, vomiting, paleness, or losing consciousness.

How Is Dizziness Diagnosed?

A doctor can diagnose dizziness and its underlying cause by performing a physical examination. He or she will ask questions about a patient’s dizziness, including when it strikes, in what positions, where the symptoms are located, and the severity.

The doctor may also test a patient’s eyes and ears, observe the patient’s posture, and perform tests to check balance. Depending on the suspected cause, a CT scan or MRI might be recommended.

In some cases, no cause is determined.

How Is Dizziness Treated?

Treatment for dizziness focuses on the underlying cause. Often, at-home treatments, lifestyle changes, and medication can control the cause of dizziness.

To treat BBPV, a procedure can be performed to reposition the head. For inner-ear issues, medications and at-home exercises can help manage balance. Meniere’s disease is treated with diet and occasionally injections or ear surgery. Migraines are treated with medications and lifestyle changes, such as learning to identify and avoid migraine triggers. Medication can help with pain and nausea. Medication is often used for anxiety disorders. Drinking plenty of fluids can help when dizziness is caused by excessive exercise, heat, or dehydration.

Caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and any substances that affect balance or trigger dizziness should be avoided. 

What Is the Outlook for Dizziness?

Most cases of dizziness clear up on their own when the underlying cause is treated. In rare cases, dizziness can be a sign of a more serious health problem.

Dizziness can cause serious complications when it causes fainting or a loss of balance. This can be especially dangerous when a person is driving or operating heavy machinery. Use caution if you feel a dizziness episode coming. If you become dizzy, stop driving immediately or find a safe place to steady yourself until it passes.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Also known as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar can be a dangerous condition. Hypoglycemia is rare in people who are not suffering from diabetes, the chronic disease that affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar...

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Labyrinthitis is a disorder of the inner ear in which a nerve that detects head movement becomes inflamed. It causes dizziness, nausea, vertigo, and potentially permanent loss of hearing.

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Hypotension is the medical term for low blood pressure. Low blood pressure is good in most cases, but it may lead to fatigue, dizziness, or even loss of consciousness. It can be a symptom of an underlying condition.

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Menieres Disease

Meniere's disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes vertigo, hearing problems, and a ringing sound. It's thought to be caused by changes in the fluid of the inner ear, and usually only affects one ear.

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High Blood Pressure Overview

High blood pressure (hypertension) increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other serious health problems. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels and vital organs.

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Abnormal Heart Rhythms

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) is a change in the heart's beating pattern. There are many different types with different causes and effects. Possible symptoms are feeling faint, chest pain, and sweating.

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Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Bleeding can refer to blood loss inside the body (internal bleeding) or blood loss outside of the body (external bleeding). It can cause bruising, pain, and symptoms of shock. Too much bleeding can lead to death.

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Hyperventilation happens when you suddenly start breathing very quickly. Exhaling more than you inhale causes low carbon dioxide levels, which leads to lightheadedness and tingling in the fingers.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you drink. The most common cause of water loss from the body is excessive sweating. Headaches, dizziness, and decreased urination are symptoms.

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Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is a condition chararcterized by persistent anxiety and recurrent panic attacks. Sweating or chills are possible signs of a panic attack.

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Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is a sensation of wooziness that usually occurs when someone is traveling by car, boat, plane, or train. It can cause an upset stomach, nausea, cold sweats, dizziness, and headache.

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Heat Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Heat emergencies are health crises caused by exposure to hot weather and sun. Heat emergencies have three stages: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. All three stages are serious.

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Beriberi is caused by a vitamin B-1 (thiamine) deficiency. It's rare in areas that have access to nutritious food sources, but some diseases (ex. liver disease) and conditions (ex. prolonged diarrhea) can lead to it.

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Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock (hemorrhagic shock) is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent of your body's blood or fluid supply, preventing the heart from pumping sufficient blood to your body.

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Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection (otitis media) occurs when the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed and fluid filled as a result of an infection or allergies. The condition is most common in children. It can cause pain...

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Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Major complications can result from this drop in temperature, including death. Hypothermia is particularly dangerou...

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Vertebrobasilar Circulatory Disorders

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders are a group of diseases in which not enough blood is supplied to the back of the brain. Symptoms depend on the cause, but may include vision and sleep problems, dizziness, and more.

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Cold and Flu Overview

Common colds and influenza are contagious infections that affect the respiratory system. Both are airborne illnesses, spread through coughing and sneezing. Shared symptoms include headache, cough, sore throat, and more.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.