Why You’re Experiencing Dizziness

Why You’re Experiencing Dizziness

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Dizziness. It’s enough to make your head spin! Everyone experiences dizziness at some time or another, especially as children, running around in circles or riding rides at a carnival that spin, loop, twist, and turn.

Dizziness is a subjective experience that can’t be objectively measured. It can be described as a spinning sensation inside the head or as though the surrounding environment is spinning. It can also be described as feeling unbalanced or unstable, lightheaded, or feeling faint.

What Exactly is Dizziness?

It’s usually not serious, but when dizziness causes fainting or loss of balance, it can lead to falls and other injuries.

Dizziness can be dangerous if it occurs while driving, operating heavy machinery, or if it is related to a serious condition. Dizziness can occur in people of all ages, but it is more common among older adults.

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How Does Dizziness Occur?

Motion-based dizziness results from movements like spinning, whirling, twisting, and rotating that can cause asymmetry in the signals that come from the vestibular system (a sensory system located in the inner ear compartments that provides a sense of balance). This alteration leads to the sensation known as dizziness.

Sometimes the dizziness is provoked, like on a carnival ride, but dizziness can also occur as an unprovoked and episodic or constant occurrence. When dizziness is provoked it is expected, but when unprovoked it can be a source of distress for the person experiencing it and indicate an underlying condition.

Dizziness can also occur as a result of infection and inner ear disorder. Inflammation, fluid build-up, or injury to the inner ear structures including the nerves, ossicles (bones), canaliths/otoliths (ear crystals that play a role in balance) or the vestibular system may produce dizziness since these structures control balance and equilibrium by relaying signals to the brain about the body and head position relative to gravitational forces.

Metabolic causes may also result in dizziness. Low blood sugar, low blood pressure, low oxygen levels, dehydration, or anemia are common culprits. Metabolic causes stem from decreased blood flow and oxygen to the brain. When this occurs, the natural response is for your body to feel dizzy and/or faint since you have increased blood pressure and blood flow to the brain when you are lying down. Similarly, anxiety and depression can provoke dizziness since the metabolic changes associated with it can cause decreased blood pressure and oxygen to the brain as well.  Many medications elicit the same response.

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Symptoms of Dizziness

Symptoms of dizziness include feelings of being:

  • Faint
  • Woozy
  • Unsteady
  • Wobbly
  • Weak

Sometimes dizziness is accompanied by:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Loss of coordination
  • Hearing loss
  • Ringing in the ears
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Types of Dizziness

Dizziness occurs when our sense of balance is off. The first step in determining the cause of dizziness is to determine what the individual is experiencing. It is often a result of vertigo, but dizziness can also be caused by an inner ear problem. The most common types of dizziness are vertigo, disequilibrium, presyncope, and lightheadedness.

Photo of a woman holding her head experiencing spinning feeling
Photo of a woman holding her head in pain

Vestibular neuritis: A viral infection of the vestibular nerve.5 The vestibular nerve carries information from the inner ear about head movement. When one of the two vestibular nerves is infected, there is an imbalance between the two sides, resulting in vertigo.

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Presyncope: The sensation of passing out. This causes a feeling of faintness that occurs while standing and is alleviated by lying down. It is usually cardiovascular-related. Cardiovascular causes of dizziness include arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, carotid artery stenosis, and orthostatic hypotension.

Orthostatic hypotension is the most common cause of presyncope and is associated with diseases that have an inability to compensate for changes in the body’s position (autonomic dysfunction) such as diabetes, Addison’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS): Another disorder in which reduced blood volume returns to the heart after standing up from a lying down position. In POTS, the feeling of faintness is also accompanied by an increase in heart rate (tachycardia). Many medications can cause presyncope, including cardiac medications such as alpha/beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, diuretics, and nitrates; central nervous system medications like antipsychotics, opioids, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants, and urologic medications—namely phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors and urinary anticholinergics.

Photo of a woman experiencing lightheadedness

Disequilibrium is common following a stroke. It can also be caused by cervical spondylosis, a type of arthritis in the neck which puts pressure on the spinal cord; neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease; disorders involving the cerebellum, which is responsible for balance; diseases such as diabetes, and metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism and hypoglycemia.

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Root Causes of Dizziness

Dizziness can have multiple triggers and root causes. Some of the most common triggers are blood pressure and volume changes, migraines, and poor blood sugar regulation.

Blood Pressure: When blood pressure is too low (hypotension), not enough oxygen-rich blood is being delivered to the brain, and brain function can be affected. High blood pressure (hypertension) can be asymptomatic, but some people develop headache, nausea, and dizziness.

Maintaining blood flow to the brain is dependent on blood volume. Decreased blood volume affects blood pressure and can cause dizziness. Blood volume changes can be due to:

Dehydration: Occurs when you lose more fluid than you drink, causing the organs, cells, and tissues to function abnormally. Your body regularly loses water through sweating and urination. If the water is not replaced, you become dehydrated. Dehydration often occurs with infections that cause diarrhea, vomiting, or fever, as well as exercise or activity that can cause excessive sweating.

Migraines: Dr. Ronald Hoffman, MD believes anxiety and stress are the most common triggers of headaches and migraines that can result in dizziness.15 Dr. Weil also believes fatigue, too much sleep or not enough sleep, skipping meals, changes in barometric pressure or altitude, and strong odors can also trigger migraine symptoms.16 Migraines are also influenced by food sensitivities and hormonal imbalances. Migraines occur when there is an imbalance in brain chemicals or an inflammatory response that causes swelling to the blood vessels in the brain.

Photo of a person measuring blood sugar

Blood Sugar Dysregulation: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a condition that occurs when blood sugar (glucose) is too low. Changes in plasma glucose level concentrations can cause dizziness. Low blood sugar is common in people with diabetes who take insulin or other medicines to control their diabetes.

Taking too much medication, skipping meals, eating less food than normal, or exercising more than usual can lead to low blood sugar. In people who do not have diabetes, low blood sugar may be caused by drinking alcohol, medications, medical conditions such as heart, kidney or liver failure, infections that affect the whole body, a tumor in the pancreas that produces excess insulin, and endocrine disorders.

These causes (migraines, blood pressure, anemia, dehydration, and blood sugar dysregulation) most often have an even deeper root cause, which may be related to diet, hormone imbalances and medications.

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Root Cause of Dizziness: Diet

Certain food sensitivities can lead to migraines, which can result in dizziness. Common foods that Dr. Weil says can trigger migraines are aged cheeses and foods containing cheese, processed meats, peanuts, beans, peas, lentils, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, tobacco, and wine.

Other foods linked to migraines include bananas, citrus fruits, figs, raisins, plums, raspberries, fermented foods, and some fish.

The immune response and inflammatory reactions to the foods generate chemicals that cause swelling and irritation to the blood vessels of the brain, which may also cause dizziness.

Hormone Imbalances Root Cause Dizziness

Root Cause of Dizziness: Hormone Imbalances

Hormone imbalances can include any hormones in the body, including sex, thyroid, and adrenal hormones, which can all be linked to migraines and dizziness.

Sex Hormones: For women, the constantly changing levels of progesterone and estrogen that fluctuate throughout the monthly cycle, menstruation, and menopause can cause an imbalance if this delicate process is altered. When something interferes with this cycle, specifically the use of birth control pills, pregnancy, estrogen-replacement drugs, or dietary/toxic sources of estrogen, a hormone imbalance can occur. A lack of estrogen and/or a deficiency of progesterone (which can cause estrogen excess) can produce dizziness.

Hyperthyroidism: Too much thyroid hormone can cause palpitations, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness.

Hypothyroidism: Too little thyroid hormone can cause low blood pressure and decreased heart rate, leading to weakness, lethargy, and lightheadedness.

Photo of a stressed man

Adrenal and Stress Hormones: Everyone experiences stress and anxiety from time to time. Stress can be physical, emotional, mental, or the presence of a stressful event such as a move, the death of a friend or family member, having a baby, or getting married.

Stress changes the hormone levels in the body, including corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), catecholamines (adrenaline and noradrenaline), cortisol, and thyroid hormones.

Drugs that contain stimulants, like thyroid medications, asthma inhalers, and diet pills, may exacerbate symptoms of stress and anxiety, and regular use of caffeine, cocaine, and alcohol can also make symptoms worse. Other causes of stress are lack of sleep and poor diet.

Adrenal fatigue: Produced when your adrenal glands can’t adequately meet the demands of stress. Your adrenals control your body’s response to stress by releasing hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) that regulate your reaction to stress as well as control blood sugar levels and blood pressure—these are some of the main contributors to dizziness.

When the adrenal glands are overstimulated for long periods of time, they begin to weaken and function below their optimal level. In addition to psychological and emotional stress, such as financial burdens, job changes, lack of sleep, poor diet, and the typical challenges of daily life, Chris Kresser, LAc, MS notes other forms of stress that can burden the adrenals, including blood sugar imbalances, food intolerances, environmental toxins, gut dysfunction, chronic infections, autoimmune disorders, and inflammation.35 Weak adrenals lead to a variety of symptoms, including dizziness upon standing.

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Root Cause of Dizziness: Medications

Dizziness is often a side effect of medications used to control blood pressure and heart rate.

Beta blockers block adrenaline receptors in the heart and may limit the ability of the heart rate to increase in response to changes in position, decreased RBC count, or dehydration. Nitroglycerin, used for angina pectoris, causes blood vessels in the heart to dilate. However, other blood vessels in the body also dilate, which decreases blood pressure.

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Natural Relief from Dizziness

Lifestyle and dietary modifications, herbal supplements, and at-home remedies can often help control dizziness, but treatment focuses on the underlying cause.

Avoiding rapid changes in body position may help prevent dizziness. If it does occur, lying down will allow more blood to flow to your brain. After lying down, slowly sit up and remain seated for 1 to 2 minutes before slowly standing up—this can often help.

Vertigo caused by Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) may be treated by a repositioning technique. The Epley maneuver is an at-home repositioning technique that redistributes the free-floating particles, usually calcium carbonate, in the inner ear.21 This technique can also be performed by a trained healthcare provider.

Vertigo caused by Meniere’s disease may require salt restriction, avoidance of caffeine and alcohol, and stress reduction. Too much sodium can increase the fluid build, or endolymphatic hydrops, making the symptoms worse and causing vertigo.

Lightheadedness caused by hyperventilation may be alleviated by breathing control exercises, such as rebreathing into a paper bag.

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Eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats and low in sugar and processed foods can help stabilize blood sugar and blood pressure.

Dietary changes can also decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease and the need for medications, which can be a cause of vertigo.

Dong quai, chasteberry, maca, wild yam, lemon balm, and burdock can also be useful in balancing hormones.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of natural relief options to try out. The aforementioned suggestions are healing, not masking, as they address the underlying causes of dizziness. So if you’d like the spinning to stop, give these measures a go. Improving your nutritional and lifestyle habits will benefit you in the long run.