Understanding Vertigo: Dizzy or Just Lightheaded? - DoctorDoctor
Home » Blog » Understanding Vertigo: Dizzy or Just Lightheaded?

Understanding Vertigo: Dizzy or Just Lightheaded?

As an after hours medical service, we get called out for a number of reasons. Often people call saying they feel dizzy. It is a bit of a mysterious one that worries people because dizziness is really a symptom. It can often be hard to say what the underlying reason is. So we thought we’d write an article that explains what dizziness is and the most common causes.

What is dizziness?

Dizziness is defined as the feeling of movement when you are not moving and is technically known as vertigo. The condition of lightheadedness is very different from dizziness. Although it may not seem like an important distinction, these are different symptoms, have different causes and will be treated very differently.

The difference between lightheadedness and vertigo

The feeling of being lightheaded is the same as when you feel you are going to faint or ‘pass out’. It is not a feeling of motion when you are still. Lightheadedness can often be treated simply by lying down. An associated symptom is that of feeling sick in the stomach, which is also called nausea. The problems of lightheadedness are common when getting up from lying or when standing up abruptly. This change in posture requires more blood flow to the brain. When the body does not have sufficient blood pressure, you will feel lightheaded. This is called orthostatic hypotension and is the result of low blood pressure.

Vertigo is defined as the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when they are actually still. It is often described as feeling like you are turning, spinning, tilting or falling. Associated with the vertigo is commonly nausea or a feeling of sickness in the stomach. Your balance may be affected and standing or walking may be challenging, which can lead to increased chance of falls.


Causes of dizziness and vertigo:

According to the Better Health Channel, these are some of the most commonly known causes of vertigo or dizziness:

  • Vertigo is most commonly caused by a condition called BPPV or benign positional vertigo. This happens as a result of loose debris in the inner ear balance organs. The small debris affects the balance receptors and the result is a feeling of vertigo.
  • Meniere’s disease is caused by fluid build-up in the inner ear, and changing pressure. The side effect to this is often vertigo.
  • Underlying conditions such as low blood pressure, heart diseases (particularly cardiac arrhythmia when the heart beat is irregular) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Medication for high blood pressure and epilepsy could also have dizziness as a side-effect.
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety could trigger spells of vertigo. Brain disorders such as migraines are also known to be a cause.

Symptoms of vertigo

Dizziness or vertigo can cause symptoms which can include:

  • Partial vision loss or double vision
  • Loss of coordination and numbness (on one or both sides of the body)
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Severe vomiting
  • General confusion

It is not very common, but if the vertigo is due to migraines, the symptoms could ease when a headache begins. But it is possible that the symptoms remain. During a migraine attack, it is possible that the pain, nausea and discomfort continue to make you dizzy. Let your GP know that dizziness is one of your symptoms, whatever the underlying symptom.

Treatment for vertigo

There are a few different treatments available for vertigo, according to medical website WebMD. Often GPs will recommend no treatment depending on what is causing vertigo. For instance, vertigo may go away in a few weeks as the brain learns to compensate for imbalance caused by the inner ear.

Sometimes vertigo is severe and very frequent. So take your GP’s advice on what line of treatment would be best for you.

  • Vestibular rehabilitation: This treatment is effective if vertigo is caused by inner ear problems. It aims to restore a person’s sense of balance using other senses. This treatment is only recommended if vertigo occurs very regularly and is severe.
  • Canalith repositioning procedure: This treatment aims at removing crystals in the inner ear with specially designed physical exercises.
  • Medication for dizziness: While these do not eliminate vertigo or its underlying cause, they can ease symptoms and provide relief to the sufferer.
  • Migraine prevention: This medication may remove the underlying cause of vertigo. Along with anti-nausea medication, this could provide much-needed relief.
  • Non-medical intervention: Where vertigo is caused by the anxiety of its occurrence, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapies could help reduce the incidence and its severity.
  • Surgery: Vertigo can be caused by a very serious underlying problem like a tumour or injury to the brain or neck. When surgery addresses these serious issues, the side-effect of vertigo should ease too.

For those who suffer from vertigo, the experience can be very unpleasant. However, it is important to understand that it is often not serious and is really a side effect of an inner ear imbalance in most cases. For other underlying reasons, once the main condition is treated, vertigo should ease too. Your GP will put you on the right treatment path.

Scroll to Top