Dizzy Signals: Getting Rid of Dizziness

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Call Your Doctor

If unexplained dizziness lasts longer than a few minutes or recurs regularly over the course of a few hours or days, you should get in touch with your doctor, says David Zee, MD, a neurology professor who runs the Vestibular/Eye Movement Testing Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Though unlikely, there's a small chance you're having heart trouble, a stroke, or a transient ischemic attack (a kind of mini-stroke).

Dizziness can also be an early symptom of underlying illness. Thyroid disorders, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, anemia, panic attacks, and even depression are just a few of the conditions that can trigger dizziness. Migraines may cause it too, even if you don't actually have a headache.

Dizziness sometimes signals problems with the body's vestibular, or inner-ear, system, which controls balance and can affect your vision as well. Vestibular problems may occur after a brain injury, be caused by a virus, or simply come on as you get older.

The first place to start is with your family doctor, who can usually diagnose the less-serious causes of dizziness. "Primary-care doctors see a lot of dizziness and are able to treat most of it pretty well," Dr. Zee says. A 1993 study in the Archives of Family Medicine found that about 75 percent of those who saw a doctor for dizziness were symptom-free in three months, either from treatment or because the dizziness cleared up on its own.

To help your doctor, be specific when you're describing your symptoms. "People use the term 'dizzy' to mean all kinds of things," says Dr. Zee. "For some it's feeling like they might faint. For others it's feeling off balance, or feeling a spinning sensation. Some people even say they feel dizzy when they're anxious, afraid, or upset."

Continued on page 3:  Consider a Specialist


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