5 Reasons Why Women Feel Dizzy—and How to See Straight Again!
Barbara didn’t think much about it when she felt dizzy after getting up from her easy chair. Who didn’t feel a little dizzy now and then? She figured she just got up too quickly. She wasn’t as young as she used to be, after all, so she started to give herself more time to adjust.
A week later, when she was taking a walk, it hit her again. She had to stop and sit down. Must be the heat, she figured. She’d forgotten to take water with her. She’d be sure to bring along a bottle from now on.
A month passed, and still Barbara was struggling with dizziness. She’d made several changes in her lifestyle, trying to address the problem, but the world was still spinning at the most inopportune times. She finally decided to see her doctor.
Estimates are that more than 40 percent of Americans will experience dizziness or vertigo serious enough to see a doctor at one time or another in their lives. According to a 2001 study, women are about twice as likely as men to end up in the hospital because of it. A 2013 study, too, found that in women, the symptoms of dizziness were more frequent than in men in most age groups, except for those over 70 years old.
Like Barbara, most women have no idea what’s causing their dizziness, and tend to downplay the symptoms as being no big deal. It’s important to get it checked, however, as in some cases, dizziness can signal another more serious issue.
How Dizziness/Vertigo Feels
Usually when we’re talking dizziness, we’re referring to three typical symptoms:
- Vertigo (a sense that the person or their environment is moving or spinning)
- Dizziness (feeling faint, lightheaded, woozy, or weak)
- Unsteadiness (the feeling that you aren’t steady on your feet, and could fall)
These symptoms are often related to each other, and may occur together or in various combinations. All are linked to other symptoms like nausea, headaches, and falls, and all are more prevalent in women.
Whereas short, occasional and isolated symptoms happen to most everyone and usually aren’t at all serious, women should check with their doctors if:
- the symptoms last for more than an hour
- the symptoms go on for more than a few days
- the symptoms occur together or in combination
- the symptoms cause issues like falls or other injuries
- the symptoms interfere with daily life
If your symptoms are more lasting, they may be caused by one of the following conditions.
5 Most Common Causes of Dizziness/Vertigo
Studies have found that most people who see the doctor for dizziness have one of the following conditions. Your case may be unique, though, so your best bet is to keep a daily diary of your symptoms, and give your doctor all the information you can to help come up with the right diagnosis.
Dizziness can be difficult to pin down sometimes, so it’s important to watch for details such as when the dizziness occurs, what you were doing at the time, any and all medications you’re taking, changes in your life that may have occurred recently, and any other health issues that you may have.
1. Otologic Dizziness (Inner Ear)
“Otology” is the science that deals with the ear, so otologic dizziness is that which is caused by some sort of issue in the ear and its connections to the brain. Estimates are that otologic dizziness accounts for about 50 percent of all dizziness cases.
The inner ear contains a balance system called the “vestibular” that’s filled with fluid. As you move, this fluid moves too, and hair fibers inside the system react to the movement and send messages to the brain, which help keep the body in balance.
If one part of the inner ear stops functioning correctly, the brain will receive faulty messages, making you feel like you’re off-balance. The brain then sends out messages to the eyes that make it seem like the world is spinning, and things go downhill from there.
There are four general conditions that can cause an inner ear dizziness:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): This is the most common cause of vertigo, and occurs when little calcium crystals or “stones” move from their usual location into one of the inner ear sensory organs. They effect the fluid in the vestibular, causing dizziness, usually when you get out of bed, look up to something above you, or otherwise move your head around. Physical therapy and exercise programs usually help remove the little “stones” and solve the problem.
- Infection: If an infection occurs in the inner ear, particularly if it settles in around the vestibular nerve, it can cause vertigo. This condition may be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.
- Meniere’s disease: This is a condition where the fluid builds up to an abnormal level inside the inner ear. Symptoms may include sudden vertigo that lasts several hours, ringing in the hear, and hearing loss. The disease is usually treated with medications that help reduce fluid retention, as well as dietary changes.
- Migraine: Women who suffer from migraines may also have this type of dizziness/vertigo.
2. Neurological Dizziness
This type of dizziness is caused by some sort of problem or disturbance that a neurologist would address. The condition is usually linked to an issue with the central nervous system (often called “central vertigo”), or another neurological issue, which simply means that it’s “brain related.”
The brain stem and the cerebellum are involved with keeping you balanced, so neurological conditions like stroke, multiple sclerosis, or tumors somewhere around these areas of the brain can cause this type of dizziness. These are less common causes, however, affecting only about one percent of the population.
3. Circulation Dizziness
Your balance relies on your brain getting the blood that it needs. If there is some issue with the blood circulatory system, you could experience dizziness.
You can think of this one as the “cardiovascular” category, as this type of dizziness is usually caused by some sort of heart disease. If you have a drop in blood pressure, or low blood pressure, you may suffer from occasional dizziness. Poor blood circulation, too, can cause it. That means that conditions like heart arrhythmia, heart attack, and cardiomyopathy can all cause dizziness.
Atrial fibrillation, atherosclerosis (artery narrowing), and even peripheral arterial disease (PAD) can all affect how much blood reaches your brain and when, and may result in dizziness. This is one of the reasons that it’s important to check with your doctor. If your dizziness is caused by a cardiovascular issue, solving that problem is likely to not only improve your symptoms, but safeguard your overall health down the road.
4. Drug-Related Dizziness
A number of medications can cause dizziness, so if you’re experiencing symptoms, check the labels on any and all drugs you’re taking. You can also ask your pharmacist if any of them are known to cause dizziness as a side effect.
Though all types of medications can cause you to feel light-headed, some of the most common are blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, anti-convulsants, sleeping pills, some pain relievers, psychotropic drugs, and muscle relaxants.
If you suspect a medication may be causing your symptoms, talk to your doctor. Sometimes simply switching to another type can help. You may also be able to reduce your dose.
5. Psychological Dizziness
Have you been under a lot of stress lately? Feeling particularly anxious? Psychiatrists have found that sometimes dizziness can be caused by psychological strain, with estimates being that anxiety and panic disorder, along with other mental illnesses, account for about 15 percent of all cases of dizziness.
Don’t worry—it’s not “all in your head.” It could be that you’re simply more sensitive to visual stimulation, particularly if you notice that your dizziness occurs when you’re watching moving objects or when walking in areas where there are a lot of bright lights. Scientists believe that these types of dizziness have a genetic component, though certain psychiatric medications may also be to blame.
Other types of psychological causes of dizziness include agoraphobia (fear of places and situations), depression, and hyperventilation. Simple, outright fear can also trigger a dizzy spell—most of us have experienced something like this when in an area or situation that spikes our anxious feelings.
If you suspect this may be the source of your dizziness, check with your psychiatrist about any related medications you may be taking, and about treatment to help relieve symptoms.
What if None of These Causes Fit?
Sometimes, the cause of dizziness is simply unknown. This can be frustrating for the patient, as there seems to be no hope. Try not to give up. Another option is to check your nutrition levels. Low iron (anemia) and low levels of vitamin B are both associated with vertigo, and can be easily remedied in most cases. A simple blood test can help determine if nutrition is an issue.
Low blood sugar and overheating can also cause dizziness, as can other medical conditions not mentioned here. If you’re struggling to figure it out, try to address any health issues you may have, as they could be related. Don’t hesitate to seek a second or third medical opinion if needed.
“What Causes Dizziness/Vertigo?” National Dizzy and Balance Center International, http://nationaldizzyandbalancecenter.com/resources/what-causes-dizziness-vertigo/.
Uno A., et al., “Statistical observation of vertigo and dizziness in patients,” Nihon Jibiinkoba Gakkai Kaiho, December 2001; 104(12):1119-25, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11802445.
Alexandre Bisdorff, et al., “The Epidemiology of Vertigo, Dizziness, and Unsteadiness, and Its Links to Co-Morbodities,” Front Neurol., 2013; 4:29, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3605504/.
“Drugs that can make you dizzy,” Consumer Reports, May 2015, http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2015/05/drugs-that-can-make-you-dizzy/index.htm.
Timothy C. Hain, “Epidemiology of Dizziness,” Dizziness-and-balance.com, September 11, 2014, http://dizziness-and-balance.com/disorders/dizzy_epi.html.
“Dizziness and Hearing Disorders,” CDH Clinic, http://dizzy-doctor.com/dhd.php.