Dizziness is a term used to describe everything from feeling faint or lightheaded to feeling weak or unsteady. Dizziness that creates the sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving is called vertigo.

Dizziness is one of the most common reasons adults visit their doctors — right up there with chest pain and fatigue. Although frequent dizzy spells or constant dizziness can keep you from doing much of anything, dizziness rarely signals a serious, life-threatening condition. Treatment of dizziness depends on the cause and your symptoms, but is usually effective.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Dizziness can usually be more specifically described as one of the following sensations:

  • The false sense of motion or spinning (vertigo)
  • Lightheadedness or the feeling of near fainting
  • Loss of balance or unsteadiness (disequilibrium)
  • Other sensations such as floating, swimming or heavy-headedness

A number of underlying health conditions can cause these problems. Some of these conditions disrupt or confuse the signals your brain receives from one or more of your sensory systems, including your:

  • Eyes, which help you determine where your body is in space and how it's moving
  • Sensory nerves, which send messages to your brain about body movements and positions
  • Inner ear, which houses sensors that help detect gravity and back-and-forth motion

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you experience any unexplained, recurrent or severe dizziness.

Call 911 or emergency medical help or go to the emergency room if you experience new, severe dizziness or vertigo along with any of the following:

  • Significant head injury
  • A new, different or severe headache
  • A very stiff neck
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Trouble speaking
  • Leg or arm weakness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling or difficulty walking
  • Chest pain or rapid slow heart rate

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