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Dizziness: Introduction

Dizziness is a general term for an abnormal condition in which a person feels a sensation of lightheadedness, faintness, spinning and/or unsteadiness on the feet. Dizziness is a symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. Dizziness can result from infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, airway obstruction, atherosclerosis and other abnormal processes.

Dizziness can occur in any age group or population, but it is particularly common in the elderly and in people with chronic diseases. Depending on the cause, the sensation of dizziness can be short-term and disappear quickly, such as when it occurs due to hyperventilation, an anxiety attack or from standing up suddenly.

Dizziness can also can be chronic and ongoing over a longer period of time, such as when it is due to multiple sclerosis or a brain tumor. Chronic dizziness generally indicates a serious condition, but sudden dizziness, such as may occur during a stroke, can also be serious, even life-threatening.

Dizziness can be the result of a wide variety of other conditions, diseases or disorders that directly or indirectly affect the functioning of the brain and nervous system. These include stroke, shock, anemia, Meniere's disease, hypotension, cardiovascular disease, hypoglycemia and alcohol intoxication. Causes also include meningitis, inner ear infection, dehydration, malnutrition, bacterial diseases, moderate to severe pain, fever and pregnancy.

Dizziness can occur suddenly or develop slowly and is described in many ways, from feeling lightheaded and spacey to feeling like the room is severely spinning. Dizziness may occur with or without pain depending on the underlying disease or disorder that causes it. There are many other symptoms that can accompany dizziness, depending on the disease, disorder or condition that is at the root of it.

Complications of dizziness include fainting, also called syncope or a loss of consciousness, and injury due to falling when fainting. For more details about symptoms and complications, see symptoms of dizziness.

Diagnosing dizziness and its root cause begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination, including a neurological examination.

Making a diagnosis also includes performing a variety of other tests to help to diagnose the underlying disease, condition or disorder causing the dizziness. Depending on the suspected cause, tests can include blood tests, lumbar puncture, urine tests, and imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan, nuclear scans, and MRI.

A diagnosis of dizziness and its cause can easily be delayed or missed because dizziness may be mild or not last for long periods of time. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of dizziness.

Treatment of dizziness involves diagnosing and treating the underlying disease, disorder or condition that is causing it. Some conditions can be easily and successfully treated and cured, while others may require more intensive treatment and may not have an optimal prognosis. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of dizziness. ...more »


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