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When dizziness shouldn’t be ignored

There are some medical symptoms that are so closely tied to a condition or disease that the symptom could hardly be anything else. For example, if half of your face is drooping, it’s more than likely you are having a stroke. Dizziness is not one of those symptoms.

“Dizziness can be related to many different conditions and is also a relatively vague term that can mean different things to different people,” says Dr. Rebecca Stormont, internal medicine physician at Aurora Health Care. “Causes of dizziness can range anywhere from mild illness to a serious medical concern, and there are some instances where dizziness should give you reason to seek immediate medical attention.”

What should you watch for?

To most people, dizziness is a mild sensation of lightheadedness, but it could also be described as unsteadiness or spinning. It can often be attributed to mild dehydration or exhaustion, or temporary changes in blood pressure. But it could also be from an inner ear problem, migraine, low blood sugar, vertigo, a heart arrhythmia, stroke, a nerve problem, anxiety, stress or even carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Fortunately, there are a few easy-to-identify red flags that can help you determine if and how soon you need to see a doctor,” Dr. Stormont says. “And if the dizziness is ongoing it might be wise to document your bouts of dizziness. This way, you can tell your doctor when and how it happened.”

Four questions to consider:

1. Is your dizziness lasting a long time? If you experience episodes of dizziness that last for an extended period – hours, days or even weeks – it could be a sign of an underlying health problem that a doctor should evaluate and potentially treat.

2. Is it happening repeatedly? Recurrent bouts of dizziness may be a sign of a more serious issue and should be shared with a doctor, especially if the dizziness seems to be worsening.

3. Are there other symptoms? Associated symptoms can be clues to help determine the cause of the dizziness and triage how urgently you need medical attention.

  • Blurred vision, headache, slurred speech, confusion, or numbness or weakness in the limbs could be signs of a stroke or other neurological condition. This should prompt emergent medical attention.
  • Dizziness accompanied by chest pain or a rapid, irregular heartbeat can be associated with cardiovascular causes. This should also prompt immediate medical evaluation.
  • Balance problems or difficulty standing or walking without fear of falling can be associated with inner ear problems — especially if there is associated hearing loss or ringing in the ears — or neurological conditions. Other symptoms that should not be ignored include nausea, vomiting, fever or other symptoms of infection. Call your doctor right away if any of these occur.

4. Did it begin after an injury? If you experience dizziness after sustaining a head injury, fall or any trauma, it could be a sign of a concussion or other serious intracranial injury. Seek medical attention right away.

“Cases of minor dizziness may quickly resolve on their own,” Dr. Stormont says. “But if the dizziness persists or the answer to any of the four questions is ‘yes,’ do not hesitate to seek medical attention. In the meantime, have a family member or neighbor help guide your movements to avoid injury and drink plenty of fluids, which can help ease your symptoms.”

Are you trying to find a doctor? Look here if you live in Illinois. Look here if you live in Wisconsin. 

This article originally appeared on health enews.

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