Spinning around and getting dizzy… collapsing into a giggling heap was fun when we were kids. But dizziness as an adult is no fun.
You know that feeling. You stand up and suddenly the room is spinning as your vision fades out and your hand shoots out to the nearest handhold to steady yourself so you don’t fall into a faint.
If you’ve ever experienced dizziness you’ve probably wondered what causes it, and whether you should be concerned.
It’s not unusual to feel a bit dizzy once in awhile. Occasional dizziness is rarely something serious to worry about. It could be things like skipping a meal, having a heavy menstrual cycle, or working long hours on little sleep.
However, dizziness can be a red flag on your health. Most dizziness springs from minor health issues like feeling hungry or thirsty. But if your dizziness persists, you should see your doctor. Period.
What Does is Mean if You Have Dizzy Spells?
“Dizziness is absolutely not normal, it tells you that something is wrong”
Dr. Moore, Sapphire Women’s Health Group
While dizziness may be minor, it’s still a message from your body. Feeling dizzy is not something to be neglected. A relatively harmless dizzy spell can become tragic if it results in falls or occurs while driving, so listen to your body and take action. 1)http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dizziness/basics/causes/CON-20023004
First, let’s look at the different types of dizziness.
Lightheadedness vs. Vertigo
“Dizziness is a message from your body. So listen to your body and take action.”
Dizziness can be a different sensation for different people, it is actually a term often used to describe two different feelings. The feeling of a spinning room or vertigo and the feeling that you’re about to pass out or lightheadedness. These two sensations can help to narrow down the actual cause of your symptom.
“The most common cause for lightheadedness is a temporary shortage of blood or oxygen to the brain.”
Lightheadedness, is feeling like you’re about to faint (presyncope). 2)
Presyncope – pre-fainting
Presyncope, pronounced Pree-SINK-ah-pee, are the symptoms of lightheadedness that can precede fainting. Not all Presyncope is followed by actual syncope (fainting).
Presyncope symptoms can include:
- Weak – muscular collapse
- Blurred vision
- Turning pale
You may feel as though your head is weightless but you don’t get the feeling that the room is spinning. Most of the time, feeling lightheaded goes away after a while and lying or sitting down can often fix the problem.
Syncope – Fainting/fainted
A collapse from muscle weakness and dizziness resulting in a loss of consciousness that is usually short-lived.2)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syncope_(medicine)
Common Causes of Lightheadedness
The most common reason for lightheadedness is a temporary shortage of blood or oxygen to the brain due to a sudden drop in blood pressure like getting out of bed too quickly. Dizzy spells can also be caused by illness that includes dehydration from vomiting, diarrhea or fever. Excessive exercise can be another contributor to dizziness.
If you’re not sick or over-exercising, then the most common cause of dizziness is related to a sudden drop in blood pressure which results in decreased blood flow to the brain.
- Shortage of blood or oxygen
- Decrease of blood flow to the brain
- Low blood pressure
- Dehydration from vomiting, diarrhea or fever
3 Causes of Dizzy Spells
Broadly speaking, you’re looking at factors related to one of these three causes, listed in order of most to least common:
- Nervous (vasovagal) system – a.k.a. “fainting from shock”: most common; reflex reaction to trauma, e.g., sight of blood, injury, etc.
- Blood Pressure (orthostatic hypotension) dizzy-when-standing, is typically caused by low blood pressure3)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orthostatic_hypotension
- Heart / vessels – (cardiac syncope) is found in approx 10% of cases, is less common but more serious4)http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/SymptomsDiagnosisMonitoringofArrhythmia/Syncope-Fainting_UCM_430006_Article.jsp#.WoMPZZM-dhA
What is Vertigo?
Vertigo, is the sensation that you or the room is spinning, sometimes you feel off-balance, falling, or swaying. This is mostly the case with motion sickness, migraines, and middle ear disorders that alter your sense of balance. Vertigo can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulty standing/walking.5)http://www.webmd.com/brain/tc/dizziness-lightheadedness-and-vertigo-topic-overview
10 Possible Causes of Dizziness
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
- heat stroke
- excessive exercise
- motion sickness
Dehydration is the state wherein your body loses more fluid than you’re taking in. Either from lack of water, diarrhea, vomiting, traveling, or excessive exercise/sweating, you might find yourself feeling a bit dizzy. Dizziness from dehydration results from the body’s fluid loss which decreases blood pressure, resulting in decreased blood flow to the brain. This chain reaction leads to the lightheadedness you’re feeling.
It’s easier to remember to hydrate while exercising, but it’s important to sip on water throughout the day, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Dehydration can be mild and drinking lots of water can easily cure it. But in cases of severe dehydration, the body can undergo shock from excessive water loss. This is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately with oral rehydration therapy and fluid and electrolyte replacement by intravenous therapy.6)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dehydration
Hypoglycemia is when your circulation is depleted with glucose or sugar to deliver into the tissues. Low blood sugar can most likely result from skipping meals, depriving your body of its natural fuel (glucose) to perform everyday tasks. Hypoglycemia can be very dangerous for people with diabetes and requires immediate treatment once blood sugar level drops below 70 mg/dl.
In case you’re having mild hypoglycemia from skipping meals or excessive physical activity, drinking orange juice and eating some complex carbs like oatmeal or whole-wheat bread can help restore sugar levels.
Symptoms of low blood sugar:
- Skin tingling
- Blurred vision
- Black out or fainting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sudden mood changes
- Trouble concentrating
- Sudden nervousness
Many medications come with varying side effects and one of the most common being dizziness. If you’re on medication, that could be the cause. While some of the lightheadedness is very mild and disappears with rest and as your body adapts to medicine, there are times where severe dizziness and even nausea can persist. If this happened to you, definitely check with your physician for a change of meds.
Prescription drugs that can cause dizzy spells:
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Blood pressure medication
- Some antibiotics
- Anxiety medication
- Pain medicines
- Chemotherapeutic meds
For more on this topic, visit WebMD.com 7)http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/medications-that-may-cause-lightheadedness-or-vertigo
4. Caffeine Overdose
Bad news for caffeine junkies. If dizziness is a frequent problem for you, and you’ve ruled out the other possibilities, you might try limiting your caffeine consumption. Caffeine is technically a drug and dizziness can be its side effect if consumed in large doses.
Just 16 ounces of black coffee contains approximately 400 mg of caffeine . Naturally some people can tolerate more caffeine in their system than others without experiencing negative side effects. Caffeine overdose can be life-threatening in cases of neglect. Treatment involves flushing the caffeine from your system while managing the symptoms.
Symptoms of caffeine overdose:
- Increase thirst
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
5. Orthostatic Hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension is a rapid and sudden decrease in blood pressure that occurs from a sudden change of position (from lying down or sitting to a standing position). When the body changes position, there is also a change in the blood flow to the brain to compensate for the movement. If the blood flow change doesn’t occur fast enough after a person stands up, blood from the brain can be temporarily diminished, causing dizziness. Some of the symptoms of orthostatic or positional hypotension may include lightheadedness, or fainting.8)http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/orthostatic-hypotension
Anemia is a general term used to describe a disease characterized by a deficiency of red blood cells (RBC) or of hemoglobin in the blood, resulting in pallor and constant fatigue. Anemia can result from several factors, such as iron deficiency, which can occur in pregnancy, blood loss, such as during menstruation, bone marrow failure, and increased RBC destruction.
A fairly healthy individual can actually have the anemia without suffering any symptoms, but others experience significant dizziness, fast heartbeat, weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, cold hands/feet, and pale skin. Anemia can be serious because it can lead to more serious disease. Anemia can place a greater demand on the heart and can contribute to arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm) and heart failure. Anemia stresses the heart because of the depletion of the oxygen transport molecules that are a part of red blood cells. Oxygen deprived tissues. In some cases, anemia can actually be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as the following:9)http://www.symptomfind.com/diseases-conditions/anemia-symptoms-warning-signs/
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
- Kidney disease
- Autoimmune disease
- Other chronic diseases
The vast majority of diseases are preventable or treatable through diet. Daily consumption of foods rich in iron for blood and vitamin C for absorption, such as the fish and broccoli pictured here, can go a long way toward improving anemia. However, be sure to check with your physician to rule out more serious causes first.10)http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/basics/prevention/con-20019327
7. Arrhythmia and other heart problems
Your heart skipping a beat might not be a sign that you’re in love, it might mean that you have arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm which can commonly cause lightheadedness due to poor blood circulation.
Heart problems like cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, heart attack, and transient ischemic heart attack cause a lower than normal blood circulation because the heart is having problems pumping blood throughout the body. This leads to depleted oxygen stores in the brain and other organs, which causes dizziness. If you feel that you have a heart problem, the best way to deal with it is to go straight to your doctor for professional medical advice.
Symptoms of Heart Problems:
- Chest discomfort
- Lightheadedness or feeling faint
- Pain spreading through the arm (this might mean that you’re having a heart attack)
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular pulse
- Persistent cough
- Swollen legs, feet, and ankles
If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to see your doctor, and while you’re there ask her what heart helpful foods she recommends. Here’s a list from Health.com.11)http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20720182_4,00.html
8. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
Benign Positional Vertigo is the official medical term characterized by an intense but brief false sense that you’re spinning or falling due to a rapid change in position. This explains why we may experience those unwelcome dizzy spells when transitioning from sitting or lying down.
A relatively common cause of vertigo worldwide, BPPV is the result of a disturbance in your inner ear. Fluid inside semicircular canals (extremely sensitive tubes in the ears) moves as you change position. BPPV occurs when fragments of calcium crystals that are normally in a different area of the ear break free and find their way to the semicircular canals. This causes your brain to receive confusing signals about your body’s position which also causes the vertigo we feel.12)http://drmirkin.com/archive/7072.html
Vertigo can be caused by psychological issues such as anxiety or depression.13)http://www.dizziness-and-balance.com/disorders/psych/psych.htm
A relatively common symptom of pregnancy (or any illness for that matter) is dizziness. Your dizzy spells can mean that you’re growing a fertilized egg in your womb. Dizziness usually occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy because your growing fetus puts pressure on the blood vessels. There’s also a chance that you get dizzy when you lie down during the third trimester because your baby’s weight presses on your vena cava (a large vein that carries blood to the heart).
There are a lot of symptoms of pregnancy and it can be different for most people, which is why you should take precautions and confirm that you’re actually pregnant via medical check-up or home pregnancy test kit. Here are some early signs of pregnancy you might be feeling:14)http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/pregnancy-am-i-pregnant
- Delayed or missed period
- Spotting or cramping
- Breast changes – swollen, sore, or tingly
- Nausea – the classic morning sickness
- Frequent urination
- Mood swings
- Back pain
Labyrinthisis and vestibular neuritis are the two most common inner ear infections that can cause vertigo. These disorders are characterized by an inflamed inner ear or the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain. This inflammation causes a disruption of transmitting sensory information to the brain. This basically means that your brain is receiving confusing signals in terms of your position just like the case with BPPV, which causes constant vertigo. Bacterial infection are relatively few so most infections of the ear are viral.
Labyrinthisis is the inflammation of the part of the inner ear called labyrinth, which is responsible for hearing and balance. If you’re suffering from a viral or bacterial labyrinthitis, you’re most likely to experience hearing impairments and vertigo due to disruption of your sense of balance.
Vestibular neuritis on the other hand, affects the branch associated with balance, resulting in vertigo but no hearing change or impairment. This disease is basically an infection of the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. Treatment for both types of infection can be prescribed by a licensed physician.15)http://vestibular.org/labyrinthitis-and-vestibular-neuritis
Home Remedies for Dizziness
After you and your doctor have ruled out any serious medical issue causing your vertigo or dizziness, there’s a lot you can do to prevent it.
Note: Some of these links help you find articles with more information and some of them take you to related products on Amazon, for which we may receive a small commission at no charge to you.
- Keep hydrated
- Eat healthy meals and snacks
- Don’t leap up from lying or sitting position (unless you’re doing burpees and feeling great! :-))
- Eat iron-rich foods and take a good iron supplement if you’re anemic
- Consume heart healthy foods
- Drink healthy herbal teas
- Utilize heart healthy essential oils, such as lavender
- Regular exercise or walking approved by your doctor improves circulation and health
Don’t wait to see your doctor if you have any concerns or ongoing issues of dizziness. Once that concern is alleviated just be aware that most illness and disease is remedial through diet and exercise.
According to an article by the Center for Disease Control. 16)
“Foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year.”
Remember, food can be our medicine and our poison. There’s only one you, so please take care!
For more info on what causes dizziness, you may also enjoy this article on HealthLine.com.16)
Best selling book on dizziness:
Dizzy: What You Need to Know About Managing and Treating Balance Disorders by Jack J. Wazen, M.D.
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