Feeling dizzy for a moment when you stand up too quickly from a sitting position happens to all of us, but if you frequently experience sudden dizzy spells, there may be something else going on.
Dizziness is much more common than we think. In fact, vertigo and dizziness is 30% more prevalent in older adults beyond their 60s and climbs to 50% after the age of 85. What’s more alarming is that dizziness in older adults is a strong predictor of falls, so it’s important to address recurrent or prolonged feelings of dizziness.
Dizziness can be characterized by sensations such as feeling faint, woozy, weak or unsteady. When that dizzy feeling makes it feel as though you or the room are spinning, it’s called vertigo. Even though random dizzy spells may seem like nothing, they’re one of the most common reasons why older adults see their doctor.
5 Reasons Dizzy Spells Occur
1. Issues with the Inner Ear
Our sense of balance and stability come from our sight, our nerves and our inner ears. Your inner ear has sensors that help you feel gravity and forward motion. If you develop an inner ear disorder, your brain suddenly gets conflicting signals from your inner ear and sight. This results in that dizzy feeling and feeling as though the room is spinning. As we age, blood flow to the inner ear decreases, putting us at higher risk for dizziness and balance problems.
The most common cause of inner ear problems is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This can happen when small calcium crystals become dislodged after moving your head quickly. Even minor movements like sitting up or turning over in bed could kick this off. BPPV should resolve on its own within a few weeks, but that’s a long time when you’re so uncomfortable. Your doctor or physical therapist can help by using the Epley maneuver. By maneuvering the position of your head, the therapist can usually clear up BPPV within one to two treatments.
If you’ve ever experienced dizziness with ringing in your ears, you could have Meniere’s disease. This is simply a buildup of fluid in your inner ear and can make it feel like your ear is plugged. If you notice this plugged up feeling, see your doctor. It probably won’t improve until you start medication to help your body get rid of that extra fluid.
2. Problems with Circulation
Our brains need a constant supply of fresh oxygenated blood to stay quick and sharp. Any time your brain is not getting enough oxygen, you can experience a whole host of problems starting with dizziness. Low blood pressure is a common culprit. If you’ve ever sat in a warm room and then experienced dizziness when you stood up quickly, you’ve experienced this firsthand. That sudden drop in blood pressure probably caused you to feel a little “off” for a couple of seconds. Feeling overheated can make the dizziness worse. Luckily our bodies usually correct this quickly. Some people have chronically low blood pressure. If you tend to run low, just remember to always take your time when getting out of bed or standing up after sitting for period of time.
Other causes of poor circulation need a doctor’s attention. According to one study, heart disease is the most common cause of dizziness in older adults. Chronic heart disease or experiencing cardiomyopathy, heart attack, or heart arrhythmia can cause dizziness and need to be addressed right away. Even if your blood is pumping like it’s supposed to, you could feel dizzy if it’s not bringing all the nutrients your body needs. When your blood is low in iron (anemia) or blood sugar (hypoglycemia), it’s possible to feel dizzy until those levels come back to normal.
3. Side Effects from Medication
If you check any of your prescriptions right now, it’s likely that dizziness is listed as one side effect. If you’ve been feeling dizzy, check to see if you’ve started (or stopped) any new medications recently. Anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, sedatives and blood pressure medications commonly cause dizziness or faintness. If your blood pressure medication is making you feel dizzy, the dose may be too high for you. Talk with your doctor and pharmacist for a new plan.
4. Ear Infection
An ear infection can cause dizziness if the infection reaches the inner ear. Any flu or respiratory illness can lead to infection and inflammation of the inner ear. If you’re experiencing constant vertigo, see your doctor to find out if you have an infection of the vestibular nerve. In addition to the room spinning, you may have trouble hearing as well.
One cause of dizziness that we often overlook is anxiety. If you notice yourself feeling anxious all of the time, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help bring down the anxiety. You may also want to start meeting with a counselor.
Editor’s note: Dizziness on its own rarely means something serious. However, if you ever experience any of the following symptoms, call 911 or your doctor immediately: dizziness with severe headache or sudden vomiting; changes in your speech, vision or hearing; dizziness combined with chest pains or an irregular heart beat.