Your brain is constantly processing what you see, feel, and how fast you’re moving to make sure your real-time experience is seamless. When what you are feeling and what you are seeing are out of sync, you start to feel dizzy. This is one of the more common reasons many people visit their doctor or physical therapist.
Many clients ask us if their dizzy spells are all in their heads. While the technical answer is yes, that doesn’t invalidate the complex and concerning experience of dizziness. Gain clarity by understanding the most common causes.
10 Most Common Causes of Dizziness
1. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
One of the most common causes of dizziness and vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). In this case, the crystals in your ear fall out of place and into your ear canals. People with BPPV will most likely notice dizziness while quickly moving positions, turning over on their pillow while lying in bed, moving from sitting to standing, or vice versa.
Another common cause of dizziness is problems with your circulation, or in other words, your blood flow. If your brain isn’t receiving the right flow of oxygen, you’ll experience lightheadedness, feel faint, and even lose consciousness. There are several conditions that lead to decreased oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain, including a drop in blood pressure, anemia, blood clots, an irregular heartbeat, and dehydration.
Many medications list dizziness as one of their most common side effects. Though medications are helpful and sometimes life-saving, they may introduce chemicals into your body that negatively affect different parts of it. The following medications are linked to dizziness:
Aspirin and other diuretics
Blood pressure medicine
It is very common for people to not drink enough water. As a result, your blood pressure will drop, decreasing oxygen to your brain, and increasing dizziness. Look out for tiredness, thirstiness, and dark urine—they are signs you are dehydrated.
5. Low Blood Sugar/Hypoglycemia
If your blood sugar is too low, you will likely experience dizziness. Blood sugar problems are most common for people with diabetes. Other causes include drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or exercising excessively with little hydration or nutrition. If this is the case, you are likely also hungry, shaking, or sweating.
Infections can lead to inflammation in your ears that causes vertigo. If this is the case, the dizziness is sudden and commonly experienced alongside pain in your ears and issues with your hearing. This is most commonly caused by a virus, but can also come from bacteria.
7. Postural Hypotension
Postural hypotension is temporary dizziness caused by low blood pressure as a result of standing up too quickly. Typically, this occurs in people who have a history of low blood pressure. A physical therapist can measure your blood pressure sitting or lying down, then when you are standing, to understand if this is the cause for your dizziness.
8. Neurological Condition
Certain neurological conditions lead to loss of balance over time—including Parkinson's disease, a stroke, or a brain tumor. In these cases, changes in the way your brain functions leads to dizziness.
9. Stress, Anxiety, Depression
Disorders such as stress, anxiety, and depression may be the cause of your dizziness. While these are commonly understood as purely psychological conditions, they physically affect your body. An uptick in these areas—such as an anxiety attack or high-stress situation—affects your nervous system. This leads to various symptoms of dizziness.
10. Breathing Disorders
Breathing disorders—including respiratory disease of failure—limit oxygen entering the body and cause dizziness. Many tests can be run to diagnose a breathing disorder.
Physical Therapy to Stop Feeling Dizzy
The brain is the central processing center responsible for keeping us at equilibrium (and therefore not dizzy). Sometimes it needs help so you can achieve top performance—this is where physical therapy comes in. Your physical therapist will work with you to either desensitize your body and brain from dizzy triggers or help it recover from whatever is perpetuating the dizziness (for example, helping you with recovery from a recent head or neck injury).