What Are Common Causes of Dizziness?

Find out what's really causing your dizzy spell and when to talk to a healthcare provider.

Feeling a little lightheaded when finishing a grueling workout or from standing up too quickly is normal. But if you're getting wobbly throughout the day, dizziness could indicate a more serious issue.

A dizzy spell can happen when there's an issue with the sensory organs—the eyes and ears, in particular. Dizziness can make you feel lightheaded, woozy, and unstable. And in extreme cases, dizziness can lead to fainting, nausea, and vomiting. 

Having an occasional bout of dizziness is fairly common. Still, consulting a healthcare provider may be a good idea if you notice chronic episodes or your dizziness lasts for a substantial length of time.

Dizziness is a symptom of many disorders, making the list of the potential causes of the symptom pretty long. But here's what you should know about some of the most common causes of dizziness and how to ease symptoms.

Inner Ear Problems

One of the most common inner ear symptoms is vertigo, which affects balance and coordination. A person with vertigo may experience a spinning sensation. For example, vertigo may feel like motion sickness or as if you're tilted to one side.

Commonly, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), an inner ear problem, causes vertigo. Normally, the inner ear has very sensitive tubes filled with fluid. When you move, the fluid in those tubes also moves, helping your brain keep track of your body's position. 

But with BPPV, small calcium crystals, called canaliths, break free and float around in those tubes. Your brain gets mixed signals, and you may feel like everything around you is spinning.

An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist can help alleviate vertigo using the Epley maneuver, a repositioning exercise. The Epley maneuver is a series of head movements that move the crystals back into the correct location within your inner ear.

Ménière's disease (MD) is another common inner ear problem caused by an excess fluid buildup in the ear. In addition to vertigo, MD causes symptoms like:

  • Fluctuating hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear

There's no cure for MD. But lifestyle changes—such as a low-salt diet—medicine, physical therapy, hearing aids, and surgery may help manage symptoms.

Migraines

In addition to dizziness, migraines cause symptoms such as:

  • Intense head pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light

Also, vestibular migraines, which cause vertigo, occur in about 7% of people with dizziness and 9% with headaches.

If you experience chronic migraines, knowing some of the common warning signs can help prepare for or prevent an episode. Also, a healthcare provider may ask you to keep track of your symptoms, when they occur, what they feel like, and how long they last.

Blood Pressure Drops

Low blood pressure due to changing positions from lying down to standing up may cause dizziness. Also called orthostatic hypotension, that type of dizziness results from gravity quickly moving blood from the upper body to the lower body. Then, reduced blood in the upper part of the body causes low blood pressure.

Many people may not show any signs of low blood pressure. In contrast, some people may have dizziness and other symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting

Poor Blood Circulation

Poor blood circulation to your brain can cause dizziness, weakness, numbness, and tingling. If you have poor blood circulation, your brain doesn't receive as much blood as it needs.

Underlying heart conditions may cause poor blood circulation. Or in rare cases, dizziness could be a symptom of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a "mini-stroke." With TIA, the blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked.

Other symptoms of TIA include:

  • Weakness on one side of the face or body
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble speaking
  • Coordination problems

Symptoms only last a few minutes, but they can indicate the risk of a future stroke. If you experience an attack of dizziness and any other symptoms of TIA, contact a healthcare provider immediately to determine the cause.

Neurological Conditions

Certain neurological conditions, like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), may cause dizziness.

Parkinson's disease affects the motor system and involves shaking in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face. Dizzy spells can happen in people with Parkinson's disease if their blood pressure drops.

MS causes numbness, tingling, and weakness. Dizziness and vertigo affect about 49% to 59% of people with MS.

Medications

Certain medications may cause dizziness. One study published in 2013 in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics reported a list of medications that may cause dizziness, some of which include:

  • Antibiotics for treating bacterial infections
  • Diuretics for helping your body get rid of salt and water
  • Anti-hypertensive drugs for lowering blood pressure
  • Mucolytics for thinning mucus
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs for reducing inflammation or swelling
  • Antidepressants for treating depression
  • Cholesterol-lowering medications
  • Antifungals for killing or inactivating fungi
  • Antimalarial drugs for treating malaria
  • Antipsychotics for managing various psychotic disorders

Talk with a healthcare provider about your medications if you're experiencing dizziness. They may be able to adjust your dosage or suggest an alternative treatment that won't cause that side effect.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, occurs when the body doesn't get enough sugar. When you're blood sugar is low, you may feel shaky, dizzy, anxious, weak, and "hangry." Low blood sugar can also cause confusion and difficulty speaking.

Grabbing a snack may help with low blood sugar. In particular, carbohydrates can help quickly bring your blood sugar back to normal. But if that type of dizziness happens often, consulting a healthcare provider may help.

Anemia

Getting enough iron in your diet or through supplements is essential. Iron helps you produce red blood cells and supports your immune system.

The recommended daily iron intake depends on age, sex, pregnancy, or breastfeeding status. And if you don't have enough iron in your body, you can end up with iron-deficiency anemia. 

In addition to dizziness, people with severe cases of that type of anemia may have symptoms like:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Shortness of breath

Increasing your intake of iron-rich foods can help reduce your risk of an iron deficiency. Those foods include:

  • Lean meats
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Seafood
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy products

In some people, genetics or health conditions like celiac disease may cause iron-deficiency anemia. In those cases, treatments such as iron supplements or medicines may be necessary for increasing iron levels.

Dehydration

Dizziness can result from not drinking enough water. Dehydration may also make you thirsty, urinate, sweat less than normal, and have dark-colored urine.

Underlying health conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, can cause dehydration. So, discuss any persistent dehydration symptoms like dizziness with a healthcare provider.

Also, aim to drink when you're thirsty and eat water-rich fruits and veggies, such as cucumbers and melons, to boost hydration.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety can cause not only dizziness but other physical symptoms, including:

  • A pounding heartbeat
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Shortness of breath

Avoiding triggers for your anxiety, like caffeine and certain medicines, can prevent that type of dizziness. 

But some triggers aren't as easy to avoid. If an anxiety attack is on the rise, focus on slowing your breathing or using a calming mantra. Taking quick and shallow breaths will only worsen lightheadedness or dizziness.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke, a medical emergency, occurs when the body's core temperature reaches 106 degrees. Heat exposure can lead to dizzy spells and lightheadedness if you're not hydrated or prepared for extreme temperatures. Heat-related illnesses can also make you feel nauseated and confused.

If you're in an environment with extreme temperatures, keep hydrated, stay cool, and limit your time outside. If you notice someone experiencing symptoms of heat-related illness, help that person out of the sun. And if symptoms are severe, seek medical care as soon as possible.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is dizziness that occurs when traveling by car, train, airplane, and boat. Before getting dizzy from motion sickness, you may feel queasy and have cold sweats.

Basically, your brain gets mixed messages. Your eyes and ears tell your body that it's moving, while your arms and legs tell you that you're sitting still.

Some medications like Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) can help. Also, sitting where you'll have a smoother ride and looking out into the distance may calm your body.

Food Allergies

An allergic reaction occurs when your body's immune system reacts to certain proteins in food. Reactions can vary from mild to severe, even life-threatening, symptoms.

Common food allergens include:

  • Nuts
  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Soy products
  • Shellfish

Allergic reactions, and the resulting drop in blood pressure, can cause dizziness.

Avoid your trigger foods whenever possible by being cautious when dining out. A healthcare provider may recommend antihistamines or prescribe steroids to help ease symptoms.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

Call a healthcare provider immediately if any of the following occur along with a dizzy spell:

  • Persistent headache or a head injury
  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Stiff neck
  • Fever, especially one higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Vision changes
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Difficulty hearing and speaking
  • Numbness in the limbs
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Inability to keep fluids down

Those symptoms may indicate a serious underlying health issue. Consulting a healthcare provider can help you determine where your dizziness is coming from and how to stop it.

A Quick Review

Dizziness or lightheadedness has many possible causes, some more serious than others. A dizzy spell may be a temporary side effect of motion sickness or an underlying health condition. It could also be an indication of COVID-19.

Whatever the case, investigating the causes of your dizziness and consulting a healthcare provider is important.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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