I'm Dizzy. What Should I Do?

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on April 25, 2023
7 min read

Dizziness is a common problem and usually isn’t serious. 

During a spell of dizziness, you may feel as though you’re spinning or moving when you’re not (that’s called vertigo). You may also feel:

  • Lightheaded or faint
  • Unsteady on your feet
  • Woozy, as though your head is heavy or floating

Dizzy spells are different from the sudden start of dizziness, which could be a sign of stroke. Go to the ER right away. 

If you feel dizzy, sit or lie down at once. This will lower your chance of falling down. If you have vertigo, it may help to lie down in a dark, quiet place with your eyes closed.

Drinking water may also give you fast relief, especially if you’re dizzy because you’re dehydrated.

If you’ve had a series of dizzy spells, there are things you can do to make yourself safer. Here are some of them:

  • Remove tripping hazards in your home, such as rugs on the floor, so that you’re less likely to fall.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which can make symptoms worse.
  • Drink enough fluids and get plenty of sleep.
  • Be aware of things that trigger your dizziness, such as lights, noise, and fast movement, and try to be around them less or move more slowly.

If you’ve had many bouts of dizziness or spells that last a long time, make an appointment with your doctor.

You should seek help right away if you’re dizzy and also have:

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • A severe headache
  • A sudden change in your vision or hearing, or trouble speaking
  • Numbness or weakness
  • A head injury
  • A high fever
  • Stiffness in your neck

Keeping you upright and balanced is not an easy job for the brain. It needs input from several systems to do that.

Your doctor may ask you some questions to help narrow down the cause of your problem: What were you doing before your dizziness? What did you feel like during your spell? How long did it last?

Your dizziness might be the result of a circulatory problem. These can include:

  • A sudden drop in blood pressure. This can happen after you sit up or stand too quickly. You might hear your doctor or nurse call this “orthostatic hypotension.”
  • Poor blood circulation. This could be the result of an irregular heartbeat or a heart attack. It could also be a brief disruption of the blood flow to your brain; that’s called a “transient ischemic attack," or stroke.

Issues with your inner ear can also cause dizziness. Among them are:

  • Meniere’s syndrome. This usually affects only one ear. Symptoms other than dizziness may include ringing in your ear, muffled hearing, nausea, or vomiting.
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. This is a spinning sensation brought on by moving your head.
  • Ear infection. That can cause dizziness. Also, you could have something trapped in your ear canal.

Some other causes of dizziness include:

  • Medicines, such as antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, tranquilizers, and sedatives. If you take medication for high blood pressure, it might lower your blood pressure too much, leaving you feeling faint.
  • Anxiety disorders. These include panic attacks.
  • Low iron levels in your blood. This is also called anemia. Other signs that you are anemic include fatigue, pale skin, and weakness.
  • Low blood sugar. This is also called hypoglycemia. This may be a problem if you are diabetic and use insulin. Other symptoms include sweating and anxiety.

If you get nausea along with it, it could be due to problems like vertigo, migraine, or low blood pressure.

Usually, dizziness with nausea isn't serious. But if you have these symptoms and you don't know what caused them, or they happen often, tell your doctor.

Vertigo. It's the feeling that you're spinning or moving when you're still. A problem with the part of your inner ear that keeps your body balanced causes this symptom.

If you have vertigo, you might also have trouble keeping your balance and throw up. Vertigo sometimes goes away on its own. If not, your doctor will treat the cause of the problem. Some medicines can ease your dizziness. So can an exercise called the Epley maneuver, which involves moving your head into a different position.

If your dizziness is severe, call your doctor. You should also see them if you:

  • Have an intense headache, chest pain, trouble breathing, fast heartbeat, or double vision
  • Lose feeling in your arms or legs
  • Get confused
  • Have trouble walking
  • Can't stop throwing up
  • Have seizures
  • Have a fever

Alcohol Use. Drinking too much can lead to a bad case of the spins. The reason you feel dizzy is that alcohol thins your blood, which changes the balance of fluid in your inner ear. And the dizziness can make you feel nauseated. The alcohol can also irritate your stomach, which adds to the nausea.

If you've had too much to drink, you might also have:

  • Slurred speech
  • A red face
  • Double vision
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed reflexes

To avoid these problems, limit how much alcohol you drink. If you want to stop drinking but can't, get help from your doctor or a program like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Get medical help right away if you (or someone you're with) have symptoms like these after drinking alcohol:

  • Trouble staying awake
  • Slow breathing
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Throwing up over and over again

Motion Sickness. This is dizziness and nausea when you ride in a car, train, airplane, boat, or amusement park ride. Some people get it just from watching TV or a movie. The feeling happens when there is a conflict between what you see and how your body senses movement.

Motion sickness can cause:

  • Throwing up
  • Pale skin
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Crankiness

To prevent motion sickness, ask your doctor to suggest medicines that you can take before you travel by plane, car, or boat. Don't eat a big meal before you go, and drink lots of water along the way. Sit next to a window and look out into the distance.

Pregnancy. Morning sickness and dizziness are common early signs of pregnancy. Both symptoms are likely due to hormone changes.

Other signs that you're pregnant are:

  • Missed periods
  • Tiredness
  • Sore and swollen breasts
  • Peeing more often than usual
  • Food cravings
  • Headaches

Call your doctor if you get these signs of severe nausea (hyperemesis gravidarum):

  • Throwing up more than three or four times a day, or you can't keep any food down
  • Having a dry mouth and you don't pee much
  • Losing more than 5 pounds
  • Belly or pelvic pain and cramping
  • A fever

Throwing up too much can dehydrate you. You may need to get fluids through an IV in a hospital.

Anxiety Attack. This can happen when you're faced with extreme stress and your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. The cause is emotional, but the symptoms are physical.

Along with dizziness and nausea, a panic attack can cause you to have:

  • A fast heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shaking
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Feeling hot or cold
  • Sweating

Your panic attack should stop on its own. If you get them often, talk therapy and medication may help. An anxiety attack can feel like a heart attack. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Call your doctor or 911 if you:

  • Suddenly feel anxious for no reason
  • Still have symptoms after a few minutes
  • Also have chest pain or can't catch your breath

Low Blood Sugar. Sugar (glucose) is your body's main source of fuel. When your blood sugar dips too low, you feel shaky, dizzy, and nauseated. Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is common in people who take medicine for diabetes.

Other symptoms of low blood sugar are:

  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Pale skin
  • A headache
  • Crankiness or confusion

Eat fast-acting carbs like these to raise your blood sugar:

  • Fruit juice
  • Soda
  • Honey
  • Hard candy, such as suckers or jelly beans

Once your blood sugar comes back up, eat a snack or a meal to keep it stable.

Call your doctor or 911 if your blood sugar doesn't go up after you eat something sweet.

Migraine. This type of headache causes severe and throbbing pain, often on one side of your head. You may feel dizzy or nauseated when you get one of these headaches.

Other symptoms you might have with a migraine are:

  • Spots or flashes of light called aura
  • Feeling sensitive to light, sound, and smells
  • Blurred vision

Your doctor can suggest medicines to prevent and treat migraine headaches.

Get medical help right away if:

  • Your pain is intense, or it feels like the worst headache of your life
  • You have a stiff neck, fever, seizures, double vision, weakness, or trouble speaking
  • The headache started after a head injury, or when you coughed, sneezed, or strained

Heart Attack. This can happen when a clot blocks blood flow to your heart. The lack of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood can damage your heart muscle. Dizziness and nausea can be symptoms.

This is a medical emergency that needs fast treatment. Call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you have symptoms like:

  • Pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest that may spread to your neck, jaw, or arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • A cold sweat
  • Fatigue

Doctors treat a heart attack with medicines that break up blood clots and stop new ones from forming. Surgery may be needed to clear or bypass the blockage.

Brain Tumor. It's rare, but dizziness and nausea may be signs of a brain tumor. Other symptoms are:

  • Severe headaches
  • Seizures
  • Changes in your vision, hearing, or sense of smell
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of balance

Treatment depends on the size and type of your tumor. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are all possible treatments.

The older you are, the greater your chance for problems with dizziness. As you age, you’re also more likely to take medications that have it as a possible side effect.

If you’ve had a dizzy spell in the past, your odds of having a problem again are increased.

The most serious complication with dizziness is falling. It may also be unsafe for you to drive or do other tasks. If your dizziness is caused by another health problem, you may face other problems if that condition goes untreated.