Lightheadedness and vertigo overview

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Lightheadedness and vertigo Microchapters


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Differentiating Lightheadedness and Vertigo from Other Symptoms

Epidemiology and Demographics

Risk Factors

Natural History, Complications and Prognosis


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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]


Lightheadedness is a common and often unpleasant sensation of dizziness and/or feeling that one may be about to faint, which may be transient, recurrent, or occasionally chronic. In some cases, the individual may feel as though his or her head is weightless. It can be simply an indication of a temporary shortage of blood or oxygen to the brain, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or anemia. It can also be a symptom of many other conditions, some of them serious, such as heart disease, stroke, or bleeding.

Vertigo, a specific type of dizziness, is a major symptom of a balance disorder. It is the sensation of spinning or swaying while the body is stationary with respect to the earth or surroundings. There are two types of vertigo: subjective and objective. Subjective vertigo is when a person feels a false sensation of movement. Objective vertigo is when the surroundings will appear to move past a person's field of vision.

The effects of vertigo may be slight. It can cause nausea and vomiting and, if severe, may give rise to difficulty with standing and walking.

The word "vertigo" comes from the Latin "vertere", to turn + the suffix "-igo", a condition = a condition of turning about.[1]


Vertigo is typically classified into one of two categories depending on the location of the damaged vestibular pathway. These are peripheral or central vertigo. Each category has a distinct set of characteristics and associated findings. Vertigo can also occur after long flights or boat journeys where the mind gets used to turbulence, resulting in a person feeling as if they are moving up and down. This usually subsides after a few days.


Vertigo is usually associated with a problem in the inner ear balance mechanisms (vestibular system), in the brain, or with the nerve connections between these two organs. Vertigo-like symptoms may also appear as paraneoplastic syndrome (PNS) in the form of opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome, a multi-faceted neurological disorder associated with many forms of incipient cancer lesions or virus. If conventional therapies fail, consult with a neuro-oncologist familiar with PNS.

Differentiating Lightheadedness and Vertigo from Other Symptoms

A number of specific conditions can cause vertigo. In the elderly, however, the condition is often multifactorial.


Medical Therapy

Treatment for lightheadedness can include drinking plenty of water or other fluids (unless the lightheadedness is the result of water intoxicationin which case drinking water is quite dangerous), eating something sugary, and lying down or sitting and reducing the elevation of the head relative to the body (for example by positioning the head between the knees). On the other hand, specific treatment is required for central causes of vertigo.


  1. "Definition of vertigo - Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-09-19.

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