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New Clues to Chronic Dizziness

Psychiatric, Neurological Problems May Cause Unexplained Dizziness, Study Shows

Medical Considerations

"The idea that dizziness is either medical or psychiatric is potentially problematic because so often it is both," Staab says. "And typically when it is both, the illness began as a medical condition."

For instance, he says, a chronically dizzy patient may tell his doctor he is afraid to drive because of dizziness, and the doctor labels it as a psychiatric problem.

But the patient may have forgotten to mention that an inner ear infection initially made him dizzy and made him anxious about driving.

Patients with chronic dizziness need to be screened for headaches, brain injuries, and other problems in addition to simply anxiety, Staab says.

Another Expert Weighs In

The new study builds on previous research, says Joseph Furman, MD, PhD, a neurologist and professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh and a veteran researcher on the topic.

"If you take a close look at people who are dizzy without a diagnosis of disease, the two main things you are going to come up with are anxiety and migraine," he says, citing his own and others' research. "But it is complicated. People with anxiety aren't immune to vestibular [inner ear] disorders."

That points to the wisdom, he says, of including both medical and psychological assessments for chronic dizziness.

The study is published in the February issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery.

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