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What is dizziness?

Do you have periods where you feel faint? Do you ever have a sensation of lightheadedness or like you're moving when you're not? Maybe the world feels like it’s spinning so much that you lose your balance?

Some people might just think, “I feel dizzy,” when they become faint or lightheaded. Others may experience vertigo, which is when it feels as if your surroundings are moving when they are not. Lightheadedness and vertigo are both types of dizziness, but it’s important to understand which type you're experiencing so that you can effectively address it.

Lightheadedness is caused by a momentary drop in blood pressure and blood flow to your head. This can be due to:

  • Heart disease or irregular heartbeat
  • Medications, especially blood pressure medications
  • Inner ear problems
  • Allergies
  • Illnesses like the common cold or flu
  • Dehydration from not drinking enough fluids
  • Decreased blood sugar from not eating
  • Deep or rapid breathing related to stress or nervousness
  • Alcohol, tobacco, or substance misuse
  • Bleeding, including internal bleeding

Vertigo happens when your body’s balance signals don’t match up. Your body uses your vision, nerves in your joints, skin pressure, and parts of your inner ear to keep your sense of balance. Several things can cause vertigo:

  • Inner ear disorders
  • Ear or head injury
  • Migraine headaches
  • Reduced blood flow to the brain
  • Effects of alcohol, drugs, or medications
  • Tumors in the ear or head area

Some Veterans experience sudden dizziness related to stressful situations in their military or civilian lives. Using alcohol or drugs can cause or worsen symptoms of dizziness. Traumatic brain injury from combat, training exercises, or an accident during military service can also be a cause of dizziness in Veterans. Dizziness can also be brought on by severe headaches due to certain types of foods, noises, or smells.

“Every time I sat in a waiting room for more than a few minutes I would start to feel dizzy. I always thought it was just me. I never knew it could be related to my service so many years ago.”

Feeling dizzy can make it difficult or even dangerous to operate machinery or drive a car. Some people also have nausea along with dizziness. Feeling dizzy can make it hard to engage in normal activities or to interact with people.

If I’m experiencing dizziness, what can I do about it right away?

Whether your dizziness is lightheadedness or vertigo, you can:

  • Lie down for a few minutes with head slightly elevated on a pillow
  • Whenever getting up from lying down, sit up slowly and remain sitting for one to two minutes before standing
  • Move slowly to reduce the risk of falling

Making some changes in your lifestyle can help you overcome dizziness. Some steps you can take at home to reduce or avoid dizziness include:

  • Drink more fluids, especially water. Dehydration can cause dizziness or make it worse.
  • Try to get enough rest. Avoiding fatigue can help with dizziness.
  • Avoid using substances like alcohol or drugs.
  • Get up slowly when you are sitting or lying down.
  • Sit on the edge of the bed in the morning before standing up.

If your symptoms do not improve with the above interventions, or if they become more severe or more frequent or persist to the point of vomiting, severe dehydration, or fainting, you should see a doctor. If you suddenly lose function in part of your body along with vertigo (e.g., arm weakness, face drooping, difficulty speaking), this can indicate a serious problem, such as a stroke. You should call 911 and seek medical help immediately.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for dizziness. If feeling dizzy is affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your doctor. Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does. If you feel comfortable enough with your physician, he or she may be able to help you find tools to manage dizziness even without direct experience with Veterans.
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center. VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans.
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist, who can help you gain skills to cope with the effects of dizziness

Explore these resources for more information about Veterans experiencing dizziness.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to dizziness, such as headaches, effects of traumatic brain injury, and stress and anxiety.

Polytrauma/TBI System of Care
The VA Polytrauma System of Care provides comprehensive care and tailored rehabilitation for Veterans and returning Service members with TBI and other injuries to more than one physical region or organ system of the body.
www.polytrauma.va.gov/index.asp

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist — many of whom are Veterans themselves — for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Dizziness may be related to other health conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1