Vertigo is a loss of balance. You cannot stand upright. In fact, you can't tell which way "up" is. This loss of balance often comes with nausea and vomiting and sometimes sweating. Often, even as you lie in bed, the room seems to be spinning around you. It can be very disabling for days or weeks.
Lightheadedness is the feeling when you stand up too fast that you might faint. Sometimes the room even "goes black" when, for a few seconds, there's not enough oxygen in your brain.
Dizziness is a symptom, not a disease. Most often it is mild and doesn't last long, and a cause is not found. Sometimes it is a sign of another problem.
Feelings of vertigo may be caused by an infection or disease in the inner ear. For example, one possible cause is inflammation of the inner ear called labyrinthitis. Other inner ear problems that can trigger vertigo are Ménière's disease and positional vertigo.
Lightheadedness can be caused by tiredness, stress, fever, dehydration, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, anemia, head injury, heart or circulation problems, or stroke. It can also be caused by some medicines.
As you get older, you may have atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or osteoarthritis of the joints in the neck. These diseases may cause vertigo or lightheadedness when you suddenly move your head or bend your head back. Dizziness of both kinds happens more often in older adults than at other ages but it is not always caused by disease.
Some mental health problems can cause lightheadedness. For example, anxiety might cause hyperventilation (rapid, shallow breathing), which can make you feel lightheaded. Some people even faint from hyperventilating.
Less common causes of dizziness are tumors or infections in the brain, or multiple sclerosis (MS).
Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your dizziness and how it happens in as much detail as you can. Your provider will want to know about any other symptoms or medical problems you are having. Your provider may see if you get dizzy again by doing things that may have caused your dizziness, such as rapid breathing.
Your provider will examine your ears, eyes, and nervous system. You may have a CT or MRI scan of the brain to look for something that might be causing dizziness, such as a tumor, stroke, or multiple sclerosis.
The treatment depends on the cause of the dizziness. If your healthcare provider finds a problem that is causing the dizziness, you will be treated for the problem. For example, if you have Ménière's disease, your provider may recommend a low-salt diet to decrease any swelling in your inner ear. You may also be given steroids (Prednisone) to decrease swelling and inflammation. If your provider thinks you have a bacterial infection, he or she may prescribe antibiotics. In some cases antiviral medicines may be prescribed.
Your provider may also prescribe medicine for the balance mechanism in your inner ear. This medicine is usually the same medicine you might take for motion sickness, such as meclizine (Antivert). The medicine decreases the feeling of vertigo, but it can make you sleepy.
Depending on the cause, mild vertigo usually lasts no longer than 1 to 2 weeks. More severe vertigo can last several weeks. With Ménière's disease, the vertigo may come and go, or it might become an ongoing problem.
Lightheadedness usually lasts only a few seconds or maybe a minute. Depending on the cause, it may happen occasionally or every time you stand up. In most cases when your healthcare provider determines and treats the cause of your lightheadedness, it goes away. Sometimes, especially if you have a number of medical problems and are taking several medicines, it can be a challenge to find the cause and cure for the lightheadedness. It is important to work with your provider and to let him or her know what is working and what is not. It is important to treat the lightheadedness to prevent falls.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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