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Telling the Difference Between Vertigo and Dizziness

People often use the word "dizziness" when they are talking about a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Vertigo (a feeling of spinning or whirling when you are not actually moving).
  • Unsteadiness (a sense of imbalance or staggering when standing or walking). This sometimes is called disequilibrium.
  • Lightheadedness or feeling as if you are about to faint (presyncope). This may mean there is a heart problem or low blood pressure.
  • Dizziness caused by breathing too rapidly (hyperventilation) or anxiety.

It is important for your doctor to know which of these symptoms you mean when you say, "I am dizzy," because the cause, diagnosis, and treatment are different for each symptom. When someone complains of dizziness, the symptom is vertigo only about half of the time.

For more information about whether your symptom really is vertigo, see the topic Dizziness: Lightheadedness and Vertigo. It can help you tell the difference between vertigo and other types of dizziness.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
Current as of April 12, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 12, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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