Why your world may be awhirl
Trouble in the inner ear is not the only reason you may have a spinning sensation. Contributing factors include:
- high or low blood pressure
- irregular heart rhythms
- drug reactions (especially to sleeping pills, antidepressants, anticonvulsants and aspirin therapy)
Warning: Sudden dizziness may be a sign of stroke. If dizziness is accompanied by partial or total vision loss in one or both eyes, numbness or tingling in any part of your body, difficulty speaking, or weakness in the arms or legs, get immediate medical help.
Orthostatic hypotension: A common cause of dizziness
Dizzy when you stand up suddenly? Orthostatic hypotension, a temporary drop in blood pressure that occurs when you stand up, may be the problem. As you age, the veins in your legs lose some of their pumping action. Blood may pool in the ankles and legs, leaving less available for circulation. As a result, when you stand suddenly, your circulatory system needs an extra moment to pump enough blood to the brain.
Orthostatic hypotension may be a symptom of a neurological disorder, a side effect of medication or the result of dehydration, so make sure your healthcare provider checks it out.
These steps can prevent a dizzy spell caused by orthostatic hypotension:
- Give your body time to adjust to a new position by standing or sitting up slowly.
- Drink plenty of water and fluids.
- Ask your doctor about wearing special support hose that keep blood from pooling in the legs.
You bend down to pick up the paper on your front stoop or get out of bed too quickly, and your head is spinning. You brace yourself against the nearest wall or handrail, and in a moment you’re steady on your feet again. Luckily, it’s a rare dizzy spell, and once it passes you think nothing of it.
But what if dizziness is an everyday occurrence? What if a walk down the block or bending over to hug your grandchild seems impossible? What if you’re so fearful of falling that you don’t leave home? If your world is spinning out of control, making you anxious or depressed, it’s time to see your healthcare provider.
To keep you steady, your brain processes information from a couple of sources, including your eyes and your feet (sensory receptors in your feet tell your brain about the surface you’re standing on). But most important is the vestibular system, a bony labyrinth located in your inner ear. Inside the labyrinth are three semicircular canals and two tiny sacs filled with calcium granules. These structures are covered with thin, hairlike fibers and bathed in a thin, watery fluid. The vestibular system reacts each time you move, sending signals about head position to your brain.
A viral infection, stroke, head trauma, some IV antibiotics and wear and tear can disrupt balance by:
- dislodging the calcium granules, a condition called benign positional vertigo
- damaging the hair cells
- dausing a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, which increases pressure, a condition called Ménière’s disease
There is relief for dizziness caused by vestibular problems. For example, benign positional vertigo, characterized by sudden dizziness when you lie on a certain side or tilt your head back, can often be completely relieved in one session. The treatment involves moving the head to a position that causes dizziness and holding it in place. After a few minutes, the head is quickly turned 90 degrees. The head is again held in place to reposition the dislodged calcium stones.
When the hair cells, important sensory receptors, are damaged, the treatment is more challenging. That’s because patients must practice the very tasks that trigger vertigo as well as activities that involve hand- eye coordination.
Ménière’s disease usually gets better on its own. However, cutting back on salt or taking a diuretic can speed treatment by ridding the body of excess fluid and relieving pressure on the inner ear. Severe cases may require surgery to prevent hearing loss.
For more information, call the Vestibular Disorders Association at 800-837-8428.