Why am I feeling dizzy? Symptoms and causes explained

Dizziness is a fairly common symptom that usually isn’t caused by anything serious. However, if you’re experiencing regular dizziness, you should talk to your GP so they can investigate the cause. 

It can be caused by a wide range of conditions, which can make identifying the cause challenging. However, understanding dizziness can help you to know when to seek treatment. 

What are the symptoms of dizziness?

Dizziness often means different things to different people. The phrase is used to describe a feeling of lightheadedness or being off balance. However, it is also used when people feel as though their surroundings are spinning. There are consequently different types of dizziness, including vertigo and disequilibrium.

This woozy, lightheaded or unbalanced feeling involves your sensory organs, with your eyes and ears being the most affected. As a result, dizziness can sometimes also cause you to faint. 

If you’re feeling dizzy, you may experience several symptoms including:

  • Feeling faint
  • Feeling like the room is spinning
  • Feeling like you’re floating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of balance

What causes dizziness?

There are several common conditions that can cause dizziness, some relate to your health and some to your diet. 

You can feel dizzy if you don’t drink enough during the day or while exercising, which causes dehydration. Illnesses, such as diarrhoea, fever or vomiting, can also cause dehydration. 

If you haven’t eaten for a long period of time, your blood sugar levels drop, which can make you feel dizzy. This is more common in people with diabetes. 

In older people, dizziness is often caused by suddenly standing up or sitting up from lying down. This is caused by postural hypotension ie your blood pressure dropping suddenly when you elevate your body. 

Dizziness can also be caused by anxiety disorders, anaemia, heatstroke, heart disease, motion sickness and excessive exercise, as well as:

  • Labyrinthitis — an inner ear infection that affects your hearing and balance, and can lead to vertigo
  • Migraines — you can experience dizziness before, during or after a migraine
  • Vertebrobasilar insufficiency — decreased blood flow to the back of your brain, which can be caused by blood vessels leading from the heart to the brain becoming blocked

Less common causes of dizziness include:

  • Brain disorders
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Malignant tumours
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Severe illness or conditions that affect the whole body
  • Stroke

Carbon monoxide poisoning, certain prescription medications, using recreational drugs and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can also cause dizziness.

When is dizziness caused by vertigo?

Sometimes dizziness is a symptom of vertigo. Vertigo can be caused by problems with the inner ear, such as an ear infection, or with part of the brain responsible for your balance (cerebellum). 

Vertigo makes you feel as if you’re spinning or the room is moving around you — this is a very specific type of dizziness. You may notice it when you move your head, eg when you tilt or turn it, or when you stand up, sit down or roll over in bed. 

The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This occurs when small crystals that make up structures in your inner ear are dislodged and move to places they shouldn’t be. This prevents your inner ear from working properly, causing incorrect signals to be sent from your ears to your brain. 

While BPPV isn’t serious and usually goes away on its own, you can talk to your GP about treatment, which may include special head exercises. If it doesn’t improve, you should see your GP again as other types of vertigo can be more serious.

When is dizziness disequilibrium?

Disequilibrium is another type of common dizziness, which causes imbalance and unsteadiness. This is often accompanied by spatial disorientation.

Disequilibrium without the feeling of the room spinning can be caused by the inner ear. However, issues with the inner ear more usually cause vertigo. Most often, disequilibrium is caused by a head injury, viral infection or ageing. 

While one bout of disequilibrium dizziness isn’t a cause for concern, you should talk to your GP if it is recurring.

A man drinks a glass of water

How can you treat dizziness yourself?

More often than not, dizziness goes away on its own and is nothing to worry about. There are things you can do to help dizziness pass and to avoid fainting when you are feeling dizzy. This includes:

  • Avoiding alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and coffee
  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Lying down until you don’t feel dizzy anymore and then getting up very slowly
  • Moving slowly
  • Resting

If you’re feeling dizzy, you should also avoid:

  • Bending down suddenly
  • Doing anything potentially dangerous, such as driving or using heavy machinery
  • Getting up suddenly from sitting or lying down
  • Lying completely flat

When should you see a doctor about dizziness?

One bout of dizziness doesn’t usually require seeing your GP. However, you should see your GP if you’re experiencing repeated bouts of dizziness. 

You should make a note of when the dizziness occurs, which situations trigger it, how bad the symptoms are and whether you have other symptoms as well as dizziness. This will help your GP determine the underlying cause.

It is also important to talk to your GP if your dizziness occurs after a head injury, alongside headaches or with any of the following symptoms:

Dizziness can also occur during a stroke or heart attack — these conditions require urgent medical attention. If you experience dizziness alongside symptoms of a heart attack or stroke you should call 999 or go to your nearest A&E. 

Symptoms of a stroke include:

  • A sudden, severe headache
  • Blurred vision 
  • Difficulty speaking — your speech may be slurred or garbled
  • Drooping of the eye or mouth
  • Numbness or tingling sensation
  • Weakness in your arm or leg

Symptoms of a heart attack include:

What treatments are there for dizziness?

How your dizziness is treated will depend on the underlying cause. Common treatments include:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Medications for treating inner ear conditions, migraines or other illnesses, such as Meniere’s disease
  • Medications and techniques to help with anxiety disorders
  • Special head exercises and movements (if you have BPPV) 
  • Surgery to treat BPPV when other treatments prove unsuccessful

In most cases, once the underlying cause of your dizziness is treated, the dizziness will clear up. Until then, you should do your best to avoid situations that could cause it to get worse or put you in danger, such as driving or intense exercise. 

If you do feel a bout of dizziness coming on, find a safe space to sit or lie down until it passes. This should help you avoid fainting or loss of balance, which can cause an injury.

If your dizziness continues after treatment, make an appointment with your GP to discuss further treatment.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.