Dizziness is a common symptom described as feeling faint, unsteady, or lightheaded. Vertigo is a type of dizziness that is specifically the feeling of spinning of oneself or surroundings, leading to swaying to one side or losing balance. Giddiness is a non-technical term sometimes loosely used to describe dizziness or vertigo, and also a state of uncontrolled excitement and fun.
Dizziness occurs due to momentary or brief changes in blood supply to part of the brain. Vertigo occurs due to causes related to the inner ear and the pathways to the brain that are involved in maintaining balance.
While the symptoms themselves are not dangerous, the feeling can be distressing in daily life, and there is risk of falling and hurting oneself. So, people who have recurrent or long-term dizziness attacks, are advised not to engage in activities like driving or operating machinery. The underlying condition or cause should be looked for and managed. Depending on the underlying cause, dizziness or vertigo may be accompanied by other symptoms.
Everyone experiences dizziness once in a while and more often than not the causes or consequences may not be serious. These include-
- Sudden drop in blood pressure: This can happen when a person gets up suddenly from a lying or sitting position (postural or orthostatic blood pressure), or after prolonged standing.
- Low blood sugar (due to fasting, or antidiabetic medicines)
- Dehydration: This can occur due to lack of adequate fluids, diarrhea, and vomiting.
- High Fever
- Heatstroke or overheating (hyperthermia)
- Heavy exercise, exertion or intense physical activity
- Injury causing blood loss
- Intense fear, anxiety/panic attack or emotional shock: This is called vasovagal episode or syncope (if actual fainting occurs).
- Inhalation of gases like carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, gasoline, glue, perfume/other sprays
- Alcohol binging
- Head injury
However, dizziness can also sometimes be recurrent and long-term. Some of the causes for this include-
- Compromise in blood circulation: This may be seen in cardiovascular disease, heart failure, cardiomyopathy or heart rhythm abnormalities. It may also occur due to cerebrovascular disease that causes transient ischemic attacks and stroke.
- Anemia, poor nutrition, vitamin deficiencies
- Migraine (during or in between episodes)
- Neurological conditions (Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis)
- Thyroid problems
- Medicines – BP lowering medicines, anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants), antidepressants, sedatives and tranquilizers.
It is evident that episodes of dizziness once in a while should be managed with simple measures like resting, lying down or sitting with legs up in a cool place, drinking water/fluids, eating something if on empty stomach, putting a few splashes of cool water on the face, and taking a few deep breaths. When the triggering cause is obvious and external, there is no other long-term management needed. In the case of orthostatic hypotension, change of posture from lying to sitting and standing should be gradual.
If there are recurrent episodes of dizziness, a medical consultation would be recommended for a complete medical history and associated symptoms, physical examination and blood pressure (BP) check done in lying and standing positions. Blood tests may be ordered to rule out iron deficiency anemia, vitamin deficiencies (like folate, B12, D) and thyroid problems. If the person is on medication, then the dose, frequency, duration and timing of medicines should be reviewed and monitored. Underlying conditions like cardiovascular disease or neurological conditions if present are managed accordingly.
Vertigo is a type of dizziness that is specifically the feeling of spinning of oneself or surroundings and occurs due to causes related to the inner ear and the pathways to the brain that are involved in maintaining balance.
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