Dizziness Not Always Child's Play
Stop the Spinning
Type 1 -- Vertigo continued...
Dandy's syndrome usually improves over time. The bad news is
that less common, deadly diseases also can cause vertigo.
"The most serious conditions are related to stroke,"
Samuels says. If a stroke damaged an artery that supplies blood to the brain,
dizziness can result. "But generally," he says, "people with
vertigo from a serious cause also have other symptoms, the most important of
which are double vision and slurred speech. It would be very uncommon to have
only vertigo and to have a very serious [central nervous system]
Type 2 -- Lightheadedness
The technical term for type 2 dizziness is "near
syncope" -- the feeling that one is about to faint.
"Like vertigo, everyone knows what this feels like because
we all know what it is like to breathe deeply [enough times] to produce a
sensation of lightheadedness," Samuels says. Usually, lightheadedness is
caused by some surrounding circumstance impairing blood flow to the brain when
a person is standing up, he says.
Blame this problem on our ancestors who learned to walk upright
-- putting our brain above our heart. It's a challenge for the heart to keep
the brain supplied with blood -- and it's easy for this system to break
When blood vessels in the brain become dilated, or expand, due
to high temperature, excitement or hyperventilation, alcohol consumption, or
prescription medications such as antidepressants, a person can become
lightheaded. There can also be more serious causes, such as a stroke and heart
Most of the time, lightheadedness is harmless, says Samuels.
"We treat [patients] by getting rid of the cause, or warning them not to
stand too rapidly, or to put their brain at the level of their heart if they
feel lightheadedness coming on. We doctors worry if we hear of
[lightheadedness] in an older person, in a person not on suspect drugs, or if
it happens while exercising."
Type 3 -- Disequilibrium
"Type 3 dizziness is disequilibrium -- a problem with
walking," says Samuels. "People feel unsteady on their feet, like they
are going to fall."
Disorders that can disequilibrium include:
- A kind of arthritis in the neck called cervical spondylosis, which puts
pressure on the spinal cord.
- Parkinson's disease, or related disorders that cause a person to stoop
- Disorders involving a part of the brain called the cerebellum.
- Diseases such as diabetes that can lead to loss of sensation in the
Doctors diagnose disequilibrium by conducting a simple
neurological exam and watching the patient walk, says Samuels. Treatment
involves determining and then treating the underlying cause which could be
alcohol, or a drug such as Dilantin that affects the cerebellum, or a disease
such as cancer, he says.