Why Do I Feel Dizzy?
Red Flags and Care Advice
Published January 2023
At one point or another, you have likely experienced dizziness. But, while you may look for a explanation, there is rarely a single cause, explains Nicholas Hac, MD, a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine.
Dr. Hac says three common causes of dizziness are:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which occurs when tiny pieces of bone-like calcium break free and float inside your inner ear, where your vestibular system (responsible for your sense of balance) is located. This sends a mixed signal to your brain about how your head moves and is positioned.
- Vestibular migraines, which often go unrecognized and underdiagnosed. People with this condition can experience dizziness in association with migraine symptoms, such as headaches or sensitivity to light or sound. For people with a history of migraines, the dizziness may even be independent of migraine headaches.
- Vestibular neuritis, which can cause room-spinning dizziness that can last for days at a time. This typically results from inflammation of your vestibular nerve, which shares information related to motion and head position with your brain, explains Dr. Hac. It's currently unknown if the condition is related to a virus or your autoimmune system.
When dealing with dizziness or other balance or movement issues, it may be helpful to understand the related terms. While dizziness is a change in your sense of balance or space, it occurs on a spectrum of sensations. This includes:
- Vertigo, which is an altered sense of motion or a sense of motion when your body is not moving. This may feel like spinning, swaying, rocking or tilting. Vertigo is often tied to your vestibular system, located in your inner ear. Your vestibular system is responsible for your sense of balance and spatial awareness.
- Lightheadedness, which is a feeling that you may faint. This is fairly common — you may experience it if you are lying down for a while and then quickly get up.
Know When to Seek Care
"Most causes of dizziness are not cause for concern," says Dr. Hac. "But if dizziness is ongoing, debilitating or has an unknown cause, check in with your care team."
In more serious cases, dizziness may indicate a brain bleed or stroke. Red flags for a serious neurological issue include:
- Double vision
- Slurred speech or trouble finding words
- Difficulty swallowing
- Uncontrollable hiccups
- Weakness or numbness on one side
- Loss of consciousness
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Additionally, when describing your dizziness or related symptoms to your care team, Dr. Hac says to be prepared to share a few facts to help coordinate your care:
- How long your symptoms last. Is it seconds to minutes, or hours to days?
- What triggers your symptoms. Do certain motions, head movements or environments (such as bright lights or loud noises) prompt your symptoms?
- What are all the associated symptoms? Are you sensitive to light and sound? Do you have hearing loss or fullness or a popping sensation in your ears in association with your dizziness?