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What is Dizziness?

Dizziness is a term used to describe sensations of feeling faint, unsteady, or woozy. Most people experience short periods of dizziness in their lifetime. People experiencing dizziness may describe it as any number of sensations, such as:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Feeling faint
  • Unsteadiness
  • A sense of motion or spinning (vertigo) even when standing still

In most cases, the dizziness sensations are brief. However, sudden or prolonged episodes of dizziness may be the result of a serious medical condition.


Dizziness has a number of causes. In some cases, it may be caused by an inner ear disturbance, or certain medicines. In other instances, it may indicate a serious medical condition. Common causes of dizziness include:

  • Low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or dehydration
  • Nutritional deficiencies such as anemia (low iron)
  • Side effects of some medicines
  • Migraines and other headaches
  • Infections, especially ear infections
  • Motion sickness (such as carsickness or seasickness)
  • Some exercise
  • High altitude (altitude sickness)
  • Pregnancy

Dizziness can also cause other health problems. People who feel dizzy are more likely to fall. Falling down stairs or falling on a hard surface may cause injury. The condition can be especially dangerous if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. If you feel an episode of dizziness coming on, stop driving or find a place to steady yourself until the episode passes.

When to See a Doctor

Dizziness may indicate a more serious problem. Call 911 or go to the emergency room if you experience dizziness along with:

  • A sudden or severe headache
  • A sudden change in vision, hearing, or speech
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting
  • A high fever
  • Seizures

If you are experiencing recurrent dizziness not associated with additional symptoms, you should contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms. Depending on the suspected cause of your symptoms, you doctor may order the following tests:

If no underlying cause of your dizziness episodes is determined, your physician will continue to monitor your symptoms. You may also be prescribed medicine to help with your symptoms. If your symptoms are caused by reoccurring inner ear infections, you may have injections or surgery.