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Dizziness is a fairly common ailment that most people experience at some point in their life. Though these instances are rarely a cause for a medical emergency there are, however, certain cases where dizziness can manifest itself rather suddenly and in extreme ways. This information is rather important to know because sudden dizziness attack while driving or operating heavy machinery can certainly lead to serious consequences.
Sudden dizziness attacks, or vertigo attacks, are caused by a variety of unique reasons most of which are relatively common and not necessarily cause for a trip to the doctor. However, sudden dizziness could be caused by high blood pressure, a panic disorder or anxiety disorder, the sudden onset of a heart attack or other heart disease, hearing loss, a vestibular disorder, an issue with the body's blood flow, and many other potential health problems. If you have experienced a sudden spell of dizziness then this article is certainly something you should read in order to expand your knowledge and understand why these are occurring. With that being said, here a few of the major reasons that cause sudden dizziness attacks:
One of the more common causes of sudden dizziness is through extreme physical stress. Physical stress can cause sudden dizziness in a variety of ways that are all somewhat connected. They usually occur when a person has been working their body to the point where dehydration sets in due to lack of fluids in the body. This is fairly common for people who work in extremely hot temperatures or simply don’t drink enough fluids or eat enough throughout the day. These dizzy spells can last just a few seconds or, in more serious cases, several minutes. It usually begins with a feeling of faintness due to a lack of oxygen to the person’s brain. Other symptoms that can accompany dizziness due to physical exertion and dehydration are vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea.
Sudden dizziness caused by emotional stress can be caused by a few different factors. I’m sure we’ve all seen movies or TV shows where someone gets too excited or too sad about a situation and passes out. This is certainly true and it can happen for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is hyperventilation. Sometimes, when a person is suffering from emotional stress they begin to lose control over their breathing causing them to either breath too fast or too slow. Doing this drastically changes the amount of CO2 in the blood which will cause a person to become dizzy.
Another possible factor that can cause a person suffering from emotional stress to become dizzy is that it creates a stress response. This rather vague term simply suggests that a person’s body that is going through some sort of emotional stress will respond to that stress by releasing hormones that promote physical, psychological, and emotional response that will help them deal with the situation. Put simply it allows for a person’s instincts to take over with a fight or flight response. Adrenaline kicks in and the emotional stress causes the brain to increase blood flow to certain parts of the body which it deems necessary in order for the body to survive the situation presented. This can cause an increased heart and respiratory rate which can cause sudden dizziness.
A couple other causes of dizziness through emotional stress are consistently elevated stress levels which can cause the body’s nervous system to act erratically. This will usually result in fatigue and dizziness.
Sudden dizziness can also be caused by inner ear imbalances. This can happen when pressure builds up in the inner ear caused by water entering the ear canal. This usually causes a build-up of bacteria which can affect the person’s balance and cause them to feel suddenly dizzy. There are certainly other causes of inner ear imbalances besides a build-up of bacteria due to water in the ear, but, no matter what the cause, it basically all breaks down to a malfunction in the inner ear nerve which is connected to the brain. Anytime this nerve, which is called the labyrinth, is not working right, sudden dizziness can occur.
Certain medications can cause bouts of sudden dizziness due to the body’s reaction to the chemicals. This can happen for a variety of reasons and if you are experiencing sudden dizziness you should check the side-effects of any medications you are currently taking.
Mixing alcohol with certain medication can also be a cause of sudden dizziness. You should never mix alcohol with medications that specifically say not to. In fact, alcohol by itself can cause sudden dizziness when consumed too quickly or in excess.
Sudden dizziness can also be caused by a variety of heart problems. These are without a doubt the most serious causes of sudden dizziness and can sometimes result in death. People often feel dizzy just before suffering a heart attack.
Hypoglycemia occurs because of low blood sugar in the body. This can cause sudden dizziness and general feelings of fatigue. These instances occur more frequently with people who are suffering from diabetes and most have to take daily insulin shot in order to counteract these effects.
Intense and sudden feelings of dizziness can also occur due to epidural hematomas. This is due to swelling and bleeding of the tissue surrounding the brain. When this occurs, pressure builds up on the brain causing sudden dizziness. This rather serious condition occurs most commonly due to blunt force trauma to the head and can be fatal in more serious cases.
Perhaps one of the more well-known causes of sudden dizziness, vertigo is a sudden sensation of lightheadedness, loss of balance, and the feeling as if you are looking down from a lofty height. The causes of vertigo are somewhat perplexing and could be associated with a few different medical conditions, such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, or brain hemorrhage.
Vertigo can also be caused by Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (or BPPV), and other vestibular disorders. The risks of vertigo are most commonly just losing your balance and falling, as well as sensations of nausea similar to seasickness or motion sickness. Though this may not seem so bad, it will certainly cause injuries if it occurs at a significant height. Other causes of vertigo include a build-up of pressure in the inner ear and both cancerous and non-cancerous growths on the nerves in the inner ear.
For those who are unsure whether or not their dizziness is severe enough to take drastic action, here are a few common symptoms that can give you the knowledge necessary to avoid potential life-threatening health problems.
If your bout with dizziness is accompanied by profuse and excessive vomiting there may be something seriously wrong. Ailments that are associated with dizziness and vomiting include but are certainly not limited to migraine headaches, vertigo, Meniere’s disease, and meningitis.
Though some of these illnesses are more serious than others, anytime you have prolonged episodes of vomiting you are putting yourself at risk of dehydration which will undoubtedly cause your dizzy spell to last a lot longer and become increasingly more severe. You should see a doctor or visit the hospital if vomiting lasts longer than a day.
Hitting your head can cause serious brain injuries and dizziness which is a sure fire sign that your brain may have suffered some sort of serious trauma. This is especially true if your head injury resulted in a loss of consciousness. These types of injuries are not to be trifled with and symptoms may not occur immediately.
Anytime you are suffering a spell of dizziness that involves a fever or neck pain you may be experiencing a potentially serious medical condition. Perhaps the most serious illness associated with these symptoms is meningitis.
This sometimes life-threating disease is caused by a bacterial or viral infection that has spread to the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. If you are suffering from a fever over 102 degrees (39 celsius) and have a stiff neck you should absolutely seek medical treatment.
Other symptoms of this illness are nausea, vomiting, skin rash, and seizures. The sooner you seek medical treatment for meningitis the quicker the illness will be cured without long-lasting repercussions.
If there's no fever but neck pain only, check our post about cervicogenic dizziness here.
Suffering from chest pains alone is serious and when they’re accompanied by dizziness there may be something very wrong. I say this because these two symptoms mixed together almost always means there is something wrong with your heart and could mean you are—or will soon be—suffering from a heart attack.
If you experience dizziness mixed with chest pains and shortness of breath you should seek medical attention immediately.
Heart attacks can be fatal, but if caught quickly enough they can usually be treated. Time is certainly of the essence in this rather serious medical emergency so don’t delay if these symptoms are something you are experiencing.
When dizziness is partnered with slurred speech or weakness you may be at risk of a stroke. This is especially true if you experience sudden weakness on just one side of your body. If this is happening and you notice a slight drooping of your facial muscles on one side of your face you are most likely suffering from a stroke. Similar to heart attacks, the speed in getting medical attention is key. A full-blown stroke can cause permanent damage or even death.
Other indications that you may be suffering a stroke are numbness in your face, arms, and legs.
We’ve all had headaches which are usually just a minor inconvenience. However, if your dizziness is accompanied by constant headaches it's a much more unpleasant experience. In our rapdily changing times, however, you can easily experience both dizziness and headache in one very vague sensation of discomfort. Check out this page where we discuss 3 most common reasons of dizziness mixed with headaches.
If you have chronic dizziness that just won’t quit, you may want to look into psychogenic (and other) causes here.
Or, take a quick look at the video below:
MD, Aleksandar Grbovic lives in Belgrade, Serbia. Finished Faculty of Medicine, University of Belgrade (2012). Worked as a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company, General medicine physician, soon to be Radiologist in the biggest occupational medicine Institute in Serbia. Crazy about forensic medicine. Passionate about promoting evidence based medicine to the layman, bridging the gap between the doctor’s and the patient’s point of view.