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Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Dizziness



Other terms for dizziness: vertigo, woozy, faint, light headed

What is dizziness?

Dizziness is a term used to describe when you are feeling woozy, or faint. Vertigo, a symptom of dizziness, is the feeling that the room is spinning around you. When people experience dizziness, it may be a symptom showing the balance mechanism in your inner ear is not working properly.  

  • Many medications, treatments, and diseases can cause dizziness. It may also be a result of injury to your ear.
  • Dehydration may lead to feeling of lightheadedness especially when changing positions.  This dizziness symptom is due to low blood pressure.
  • Certain physical conditions - such as orthostatic hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension is often a result of a disease state, or dehydration may also cause dizziness symptoms.
  • As you get older, or as a result of certain conditions, the central nervous system has a more difficult time regulating blood pressure levels. When you change from a lying to a standing position rapidly, you may feel "faint" or lightheaded, as your blood pressure drops to a level below normal. 
  • Orthostatic hypotension may also occur if you are anemic, or dehydrated, as the fluid volume levels in your body are low. 
  • Medications - If you are taking certain medications to control your high blood pressure or heart rate, for example, these may cause your blood pressure to become low.

Symptoms that are used to describe dizziness or are associated with dizziness:

  • Most people notice dizziness symptoms when they change positions, or move their heads.
  • You might feel vertigo or the opposite of vertigo - that you are spinning. Some people describe dizziness, as feeling a bit "woozy."  Severe dizziness is the fear that you may fall down when you stand up. 
  • Some people may lose their hearing, or their vision, which may be accompanied by dizziness. 
  • Nausea, ringing in the ears, and vomiting may be associated with dizziness.
  • Severe vomiting over a long period of time may cause dizziness symptoms.
  • Dizziness may be a symptom or sign of a serious problem. Notify your doctor if you experience any of the dizziness symptoms mentioned here. 

How is dizziness diagnosed? 

  • Usually, your healthcare provider will first take a complete health history from you. They will then examine your neurological system through conducting a physical exam in their office. This may include looking in your eyes, watching you stand or walk, and testing your strength. He or she will also look inside your inner ear, to see if there is an infection. 
  • To distinguish vertigo from dizziness, your healthcare provider may turn your head in different positions, usually from a sitting position, to a lying position, and back again, as they try to elicit the same dizziness symptoms that you are describing. 
  • Your healthcare provider may suggest that you have x-rays, an MRI, or a CAT Scan of your head. You may also be referred to a neurologist, who specializes in dizziness disorders. 
Your healthcare provider may order some blood work to be drawn. The blood work will show many things that could be causing your dizziness symptoms. These include anemia, checking your blood electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and kidney function) as well as to evaluate for dehydration. 

Symptom management: 
Things you can do:
  • It is important to notify your healthcare provider if you notice any dizziness, or any change in the pattern of dizziness symptoms you are experiencing.  Also, notify your healthcare provider if you have any loss of vision, hearing, or if your symptoms become more severe, and do not improve. 
  • If low blood pressure is a symptom contributing to your dizziness and you are taking medications to control high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about whether your medication may need to be adjusted. 
  • Drink 2-3 liters of fluid per day to prevent dehydration. This may include fruit juices, water, non-caffeinated sodas and coffee, and non-alcoholic beverages. Alcohol and caffeine may cause dehydration, so these should be avoided. Always carry a "sipper" cup filled with your favorite drinks.
  • Change positions slowly to avoid vertigo and/or dizziness. Allow your body a chance to adapt to the position change. For some people, lying down until the dizzy episode passes may be the best solution. 
  • With moderate dizziness, walk slowly and often. Walk with assistance if the dizziness is severe. 
  • If you have vertigo, your doctor or a trained therapist may teach you exercises, called "vestibular exercises," to try to get rid of your dizziness. Vertigo improvement exercises involve you sitting down, and changing into different positions. This may increase your dizziness at first, while you are performing these movements, but should help to correct the vertigo. You may expect improvement in 2-6 months.
  • If you have Meneire's disease (a disease of the inner ear), treatment of this condition may include:
    • Limiting the amount of salt you eat in a day
    • Prescription of anti-nausea
    • Anti-vertigo medications
    • And/or medication to help your body rid itself of salt and fluids (a diuretic). The goal is to decrease the pressure of your inner ear, in an effort to control the vertigo.  
  • Depending on the cause of dizziness, vertigo and/or other symptoms it may last a few days to a few months. It is important to follow all the instructions from your healthcare provider. 
  • If your dizziness is a symptom of medications you have taken in the past, it is important to avoid these in the future, if possible. Be sure that you tell each of your health care providers about all of the medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal remedies. It is important to avoid the use of drugs that may cause further damage the cells in your ear.

Drugs that may be prescribed by your doctor:

  • There are many drugs that can be used to treat dizziness symptoms. These may include: 
  • These medications may help to decrease the feelings of unsteadiness or imbalance that you may be feeling:
    • Meclizine (Antivert®)
    • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®)
    • Scopolamine patch.
  • These medications may work to prevent the feeling of dizziness, or prevent nausea and vomiting that may cause dizziness:
    • Prochlorperazine (Compazine®)
    • Promethazine (Phenergan®)

When to call your doctor or health care provider about dizziness symptoms:

  • Develop any sudden severe ear pain.
  • Temperature greater than 100.5 F (38 C).
  • Unable to eat or drink for 24 hours or have signs of dehydration:
    • Tiredness,
    • Thirst,
    • Dry mouth,
    • Dark and decreased amount of urine, or
    • Dizziness.
  • Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and unrelieved with prescribed medication).
  • Vomiting (vomiting more than 4-5 times in a 24 hour period).
  • If you have a sudden loss of vision, or if you lose your hearing. 
  • If you fall down, or lose consciousness as a symptom of your dizziness. 
  • If your dizziness symptoms worsen within 3 days of treatment.

Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms of dizziness.

Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website about dizziness, vertigo and other medical conditions is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.