At some point in your life, you’ve probably felt the sensation of dizziness. Maybe as a child you spun around too long, or as a young adult you stood up from a chair too quickly. As you age, you may feel that dizzy sensation more frequently than you want to, but what does it mean and how can you prevent it?
Dizziness describes a range of sensations and may be different for you than it is for another person. You may be faint, a little bit nauseous, weak, or unsteady. It may feel like the room is spinning, or like you're about to pass out. If you do feel like the room is spinning, that’s a condition called vertigo.
People describe dizziness as:
- The sense that you are spinning when you’re actually still
- Feeling suddenly lightheaded or faint
- Losing your balance unexpectedly without explanation
- Feeling like you're floating
Your dizziness may get worse when you stand up, walk, or move your head from side to side. When you feel dizzy very suddenly, it is often accompanied by severe nausea. An episode of dizziness can last minutes or even days before you feel relief from your symptoms.
Vertigo. When vertigo is diagnosed, it is typically an inner ear problem that leads to sensations of not having balance. When you are older, there may be other factors contributing to vertigo, including vision impairment or inner ear infections.
To diagnose vertigo versus another condition, your doctor asks questions about your condition. If it helps, take specific notes about how you feel during episodes of dizziness so your doctor can pinpoint the cause and treat it.
Why Does Dizziness Affect Older Adults?
As you age, you’re naturally at a higher risk for some conditions, including dizziness. This is because dizziness is a symptom of other health conditions common with old age.
Changes in blood pressure. As you age, your heart isn’t as effective at pumping blood through your body. If you stand up too quickly, your blood pressure may suddenly drop. If a change in your blood pressure is the cause of dizziness, it shouldn’t last longer than a couple of minutes. Once your blood pressure returns to normal, your dizziness fades.
Poor circulation. When your body pumps less blood through your veins, it decreases the oxygen that travels through your body as well. With less oxygen in your brain and inner ear, you may feel sensations of dizziness.
Neurological conditions. Disorders like Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis cause changes to your body that lead to dizziness. In this case, your doctor will seek to diagnose and treat the overarching health condition in hopes of eliminating your dizziness.
Medications. Make sure you read the labels on any medications you take. Dizziness is often a side effect of medicines like anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, sedatives, and tranquilizers. If you take medication to lower your blood pressure, this may also cause episodes of dizziness if your blood pressure gets too low.
Anxiety disorders. As you get older, you may develop anxiety around completing certain activities or even leaving home. When faced with a situation that triggers your anxiety, you may experience a panic attack, which often includes dizziness.
Low iron levels. Iron helps your body produce red blood cells. If you’re low in iron – often called anemia – you may experience episodes of dizziness due to low platelets. If this condition is to blame for your dizziness, you may also feel weak overall and look pale.
Low blood sugar. If you have diabetes that is being managed by insulin, dizziness occurs when your blood sugar drops suddenly. You may also sweat or suddenly feel anxious.
Talk to your doctor. Dizziness is annoying and can interrupt your life, but it generally doesn’t signal a more serious condition. However, if your dizziness is accompanied by other symptoms, seek emergency medical assistance right away. These symptoms include:
- Headache that occurs suddenly and is debilitating
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble breathing
- Numbness in your face, arms, or legs
- Episodes of fainting
- Seeing double vision
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Slurring your speech
- Feeling confused
- Stumbling while walking
- Severe vomiting
- Sudden decrease in hearing