What Causes Dizzy Spells

Should I Be Concerned?

By: - Health & Fitness - June 6, 2011
what causes dizzy spells

What causes dizzy spells is a popular question and one that is not easily answered.  Dizzy spells are very common and can be caused by a wide variety of things, most of which are not overly concerning.  Before determining the possible dizzy spell causes, your doctor is going to want to be sure he or she understands what you mean by “dizzy spell”.

There are usually two different things people refer to as a dizzy spell.  The first is vertigo, a condition defined by the person having the sensation that the things around them are moving, sometimes very quickly, when in reality, nothing is moving at all.  This kind of dizzy spell causes people to lose their balance and can be completely debilitating in its more extreme occurrences.  The second is lightheadedness.  The person experiencing lightheadedness feels like they are about to faint or “pass out”.  Though they might associate the feeling with being dizzy, they don’t feel like the room is spinning around them and generally don’t lose their balance so much as feel week in the knees.

Vertigo- A conflict between the signals sent to the brain by your balance and the position-sensing systems in your body are what cause dizzy spells that are best described as vertigo.  Vision, sensory nerves and skin pressure are the three main sources of information input that your brain uses to balance your body.  When something crosses those “wires”, so to speak, it can create the sensation of vertigo or dizzy spells.  Some common causes of vertigo include:

  • Inner ear disorders
  • Migraine headaches
  • Decreased blood flow through the arteries that supply blood to the base of the brain
  • Non-cancerous growth in the space behind the eardrum (cholesteatoma)
  • Brain tumors and cancer that has spread from another part of the body (metastatic)

Cholesteatoma and metastatic tumors and cancer are both very uncommon dizzy spell causes.  If vertigo occurs very suddenly with any loss of function, immediate medical attention is a necessity.  Vertigo, accompanied by loss of function can mean a stroke or transient ischemic attack has occurred.  The sooner medical attention is obtained, the better the chances of recovery.  The most common causes of dizzy spells of this nature are treated easily and not a serious cause for concern beyond discomfort.

Lightheadedness- Feeling lightheaded now and again is pretty common.  Usually it is not caused by a serious problem.  What causes dizzy spells in the case of lightheadedness is often a drop in blood pressure and blood flow to the head from standing up too quickly after lying down or sitting.  This is called orthostatic hypotension.  There are many other causes of dizzy spells of this type, such as:

  • Allergies
  • Illnesses (flue, colds, anything that causes congestion of the sinuses and ears)
  • Vomiting, fevers, diarrhea, and any other illness that causes dehydration.
  • Rapid or very deep breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Stress and Anxiety
  • The use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol

In rare cases, what causes dizzy spells is bleeding.  When bleeding is the cause, it is usually so obvious generally speaking, injuries that cause a loss of blood large enough to invoke dizzy spells can be seen by any casual observer.  However, sometimes, the bleeding isn’t obvious at all and when that is the case, it’s called occult bleeding.  An example of occult bleeding would be small amounts of bleeding occurring in the digest tract and thereby going unnoticed for days.  When lightheadedness and fatigue occur very suddenly, occult bleeding may be the culprit.  Arrhythmia is another very uncommon cause of lightheadedness and can cause fainting spells (syncope).

If the fainting spells are unexplained, what causes your dizzy spells aren’t obvious or if either problem becomes debilitating, see a doctor and have get evaluated as soon as possible.


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