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50+: Live Better, Longer

Dizziness Not Always Child's Play

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If You're Dizzy, See a Doctor continued...

"Dizziness is a very rich problem because it contains pieces of internal medicine, a lot of neurology, a lot of otolaryngology [ear, nose, and throat medicine], and a lot of psychiatry," Samuels tells WebMD. You have to know a fair amount of medicine to be a 'dizzy' doctor, [so some] primary care doctors get anxious. They order too many tests ... and patients get frustrated."

"You should tell your primary care doctor what the sensation is like," says Samuels. "Dizziness means something different to every person -- it has no specific medical meaning, and different cultures have different words to refer to it."

Thoroughly describing your symptoms can really help your primary care doctor get to the root of the problem. "He or she should take a careful history, do a brief examination, and make the proper referral" to a specialist, if necessary.

If your primary care doctor thinks your dizziness is due to a heart problem, for example, you would be sent to a cardiologist. If your symptoms suggest a brain or nerve problem, you would be sent to a neurologist. And if the problem seems to be psychological in nature, your may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

But don't just get a bunch of tests without some idea of where the problem lies. Samuels and otolaryngologist Richard L. Prass, MD, PhD, both say that expensive tests can be a waste of money unless ordered by a specialist looking for something specific.

How can a doctor tell where to send you? Samuels says that the type of dizziness you describe can point a primary care provider in the right direction. He identifies four distinct types: vertigo, lightheadedness, disequilibrium, and anxiety.

Type 1 -- Vertigo

"Vertigo is the feeling of motion when there is no motion," Samuels says.

It's a feeling common to every child who's spun himself around and around. "But if it happens in the course of normal daily living, it is a symptom -- one that accounts for half of all dizzy complaints," he says.

Vertigo means there is a problem with the vestibular system of the inner ear -- the part of the nervous system that tells you which way is down (the sense of gravity), and also lets you sense the position of your head.

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