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The Four Flavors of Dizzy


Submitted by Poonam McAllister, Central Illinois Institute of Balance

A symptom is a departure from normal function or feeling which is noticed by a patient, indicating the presence of disease or abnormality. A symptom is subjective, observed by the patient, and cannot be measured directly.

Feeling dizzy is only a symptom and, in itself, does not tell us what the disease is or where the problem lies. According to Mayo Clinic, dizziness is one of the most common reasons that adults see their physician. The reason for the dizziness can be a very challenging problem to figure out because dizziness can be present with many different diseases.

The description of the symptom can help in directing the testing as well as treatment. However, patients often experience dizziness and balance problems together, which makes it even more difficult to describe the sensation they are feeling.

In a Boston Globe article*, Dr. Steven D. Rausch explains a method to sort out what he calls the “four flavors of dizzy.”

  1. The first flavor is a sensation of blacking out while standing up. This can be caused by problems of the circulatory system, like low blood pressure, dehydration, or heart arrhythmias.

  2. The second flavor is unsteadiness. This is a difficult problem to sort out, as it can be associated with inner ear problems as well as with neurological problems like stroke or neuropathies.

  3. The third flavor of dizziness is true vertigo. This is a classic symptom of inner ear problems, and people describe this as a spinning sensation either of the room or a spinning sensation inside their head. However, it can be associated with migraines, strokes, or epilepsy.

  4. The last flavor is that of light-headedness. This is described as a feeling of weakness and fainting.

Due to the wide variety of conditions that can cause dizziness, testing and treatment of dizziness and balance problems may entail a review of multiple systems and requires taking a thorough history that includes a detailed assessment of symptoms, their description, their duration, and frequency. It is also important to know what else accompanies the symptoms of dizziness and any other medical conditions. Being able to describe the specific type of dizziness will help your medical providers determine the proper course of treatment.

Many people suffer for years because the cause of their dizziness is not properly diagnosed. They grow weary of seeing doctor after doctor, being told one thing and then something else, but still their symptom persists. Dizziness is treatable once the cause is determined and proper treatment is begun.

For more information on any type of balance or dizziness problem, you may contact Poonam McAllister at Central Illinois Institute of Balance, 309-663-4900, Their office is located at 211 Landmark Dr., Suite E-3 in Normal.

Sources available upon request.