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Dizziness is defined as feelings of unsteadiness, wooziness, and lightheadedness; and sensations of moving, spinning, floating, swaying, tilting, or whirling (sensations known as vertigo). These sensations occur even when standing still or lying down.

More than 4 out of 10 people experience an episode of dizziness significant enough to send them to a doctor. Dizziness changes your sense of balance and can increase your risk of falling.

What causes dizziness?

For the body to feel balanced, the brain requires input from the inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints. Since mechanisms for maintaining balance are so complex, finding the exact cause of dizziness is often difficult and requires input from several medical specialties. Dizziness is generally not serious. However, it may be the result from problems associated with the inner ear, brain, or heart. It can also be the result of medications.

One of the most common causes of dizziness is inner ear disorders. These disorders include:

General location of inner ear disorders

General location of inner ear disorders.
Semicircular canals: Benign positional vertigo.
Vestibular nerve: vestibular neuritis and acoustic neuroma.

Other causes of dizziness

Medications are a common source of dizziness. The medicines can include drugs to treat seizure disorders (eg, carbamazepine, phenytoin), drugs to help calm or sleep (sedating drugs/antidepressants), and even drugs used to treat inner ear infections (eg, gentamicin, streptomycin).

Alcohol consumption is another cause of dizziness.

Tips to reduce falls include:

  • Sit on the edge of the bed for several minutes in the morning before standing up.
  • Change positions or turn slowly and have something nearby to hold onto.
  • Never walk in the dark. Keep walkways well lit. Install night lights in all rooms. Always turn on a light before entering a dark room.
  • Keep medical conditions under control by taking prescribed medications and/or following a prescribed diet.
  • Learn and practice exercises that can improve balance, such as Tai Chi or yoga.
  • Use a cane or walker for more severe walking problems.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes, walking shoes, or other flexible shoes with good traction.
  • Install hand grips in baths and showers.
  • Always use handrails when walking up and down stairs.
  • Remove home hazards such as floor throw rugs, loose electrical cords, stools or other small pieces of furniture that can trip people, and all other floor clutter.
  • Ask your primary care doctor to refer you to a vestibular rehabilitation program. These individualized balance-retraining exercise programs teach ways to decrease dizziness, improve balance, and improve overall ability to perform activities of daily living.
  • If you have dizziness or vertigo, avoid activities such as driving until your doctor gives you approval. Also, avoid any heights, such as climbing a ladder, as they can put you in danger.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are feeling dizzy, it is important to see your primary care doctor for a thorough exam.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/5/2015...6422

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