Dizziness is a feeling of lightheadedness or of becoming faint. Vertigo is the sensation that the room is spinning around you. Both dizziness and vertigo can occur when lying down, sitting down or standing, and both can cause problems with balance as well as increasing the risk of falling.
While dizziness, vertigo and other issues affecting balance can be alarming, they’re usually benign and due to an underlying issue like an ear infection or low blood pressure. Vertigo is most commonly associated with issues affecting the inner ear, including infections and nerve-related problems. A few people may experience vertigo as a symptom of a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo which causes feelings of spinning when the head is placed in different positions, especially when lying down. Lightheadedness is often linked with a decrease in blood pressure, but it can also be caused by some types of infections or by low blood sugar. People with migraines also frequently have bouts of dizziness, either accompanied by headache or occurring even when head pain is absent. In a few cases, dizziness and balance problems are linked with problems in the brain or nervous system.
Diagnosis of dizziness and balance issues begins with a review of symptoms and a physical exam, accompanied by an in-depth medical history to look for risk factors and “clues.” Additional evaluations like blood tests, diagnostic imaging, auditory testing and in-office evaluations of reflexes may also be performed or recommended.
Because most dizziness and vertigo symptoms are related to underlying issues like ear infections, low blood pressure or glucose imbalances, treating those issues typically helps resolve balance-related symptoms. Referrals may be made to ear, nose and throat specialists, endocrinologists or other specialists as needed. When tests reveal a more serious underlying issue related to nervous system disorders, treatment will focus on addressing those issues to determine if symptoms resolve.