What Are the Most Common Causes of Dizziness and Vertigo?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2018
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The common causes of dizziness and vertigo are dependent on how these two terms are defined. Feeling dizzy can be synonymous with experiencing vertigo or strong feelings that the body is in motion or the world is spinning. In these cases, common causes include dysfunctions of the inner ear and things like medication or substance use. On the other hand, the definition of dizziness may also mean lightheadedness or faintness, and some associated causes are medications, illness, stress and dehydration. In some circumstances, substance overuse or the side effects of some medications result in both faintness and spinning sensations.

If dizziness and vertigo are synonyms, the most common cause is likely to be instability in the inner ear. Conditions like labyrinthitis, which is a temporary viral infection, interrupt the ears’ ability to provide equilibrium. Alternately, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo can create inflammation of the inner ear that prevents the small calcium deposits in it from maintaining a sense of balance. People with this condition develop a distressing feeling of motion or spinning, even when they’re not moving. Meniere’s disease results in loud ringing in the ears and also may disturb the balance of fluid in the inner ears, which produces sudden spinning sensation episodes.


There are additional potential causes of dizziness and vertigo, when they are defined as the same. People with migraine headaches may have bouts of feeling like the world is moving even if they stand still. Many prescription medications have dizziness and vertigo as a potential side effect. In addition, the overuse of substances like alcohol or the withdrawal experienced from addictive substances may bring about disturbances in how motion is perceived.

Interestingly, drug or substance use, overuse of medications, and drug withdrawal are also symptoms of dizziness and vertigo when they are defined differently. The other causes of being dizzy or lightheaded are usually very different and have little to do with inner ear troubles. For example, depression or anxiety can make people feel exceptionally faint, and panic attacks that involve hyperventilation are particularly associated with lightheadedness.

Additional causes of feeling faint are allergies, viruses, and infections. Dehydration, from not getting enough to drink or quick depletion of the body’s electrolytes through diarrhea or vomiting, may result in exceptional lightheadedness. Vertigo can cause extreme vomiting, leading to dehydration and feeling faint. Though less common, people could also feel lightheaded as a result of high or low blood pressure; minor intestinal bleeding, as from an ulcer; or unusual heart rhythms.

The medical layperson can’t always determine the causes of dizziness and vertigo. Since these symptoms sometimes represent serious or debilitating conditions, people may want to consult their doctors about either of these symptoms. This is strongly recommended if individuals experience multiple episodes of spinning sensations, faintness, or both.



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