Seven reasons you get dizzy

Dehydration, an inner-ear problem, or a mini-stroke? How to tell when a dizzy spell is serious

Dr. Travis' Health Emergency: Vertigo

We all know what it's like to get a dizzy spell now and then – whether it's from getting up too quickly from bed or feeling light-headed after a virus. Most of the time it's nothing serious, but dizziness can sometimes be a sign of a more serious medical problem.

See also: Could it be a mini-stroke?

See also: How to spot the signs of sunstroke and heat exhaustion

Either way, dizziness isn't something you should ignore. Even if it's caused by something minor, it can have serious health consequences – a fall can result in broken bones or even a serious head injury.

Here are seven potential causes of dizziness and what you can do...

1. Dehydration or low-blood sugar
Not drinking enough water, particularly in hot weather, and skipping meals can make you feel dizzy. Try drinking some water or orange juice (to help raise your blood sugar) and eat something sweet, like jam on toast or a chocolate bar.

If dehydration or low-blood sugar was to blame, you should start to feel better in about 15 minutes. If you don't feel better after resting, call someone for help. And if you should need to go to the doctors, get someone to drive you there or ask for a home visit. Never drive while feeling dizzy.

Diabetics are particularly prone to dizzy spells caused by low blood sugar, but anyone can suffer from hypoglycaemia if you haven't had anything to eat or drink for a while. Be sure to sip water constantly throughout the day, particularly in summer. Thirst is a sign that your body is already dehydrated – so drink even if you don't feel thirsty.

2. Vertigo
As you get older, age-related changes in your inner ear can case dizziness – particularly the kind that comes on when you get out of bed and the room starts spinning. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a common condition that often clears up without treatment after several weeks or months.

It's caused by small fragments of debris in the ear canal, which either dissolve or become lodged in a place where they no longer cause symptoms. Your GP may be able to treat the problem using a procedure called the Epley manoeuvre, which involves performing different head movements to move the fragments that cause vertigo to a place where they no longer cause problems.

3. Meniere's Disease
Another condition affecting the inner ear, Meniere's Disease causes vertigo, which may also be accompanied by ringing in the ear (tinnitus), hearing loss, or a feeling of pressure or pain in the ear. Some people may also suffer from nausea and vomiting. Experts aren't sure what causes the problem, but believe it may be the result of too much fluid in the inner ear.

It tends to affect people in their 40s and 50s and lack of sleep can make it worse. A flare up can last anywhere from 20 minutes to four hours. Your GP may be able to offer motion sickness or anti-nausea medication or give you a diuretic to help reduce fluid in your body.

4. Stroke or mini-stroke
If you experience sudden dizziness along with a weakness on one side of your body, loss of movement, a severe headache or loss of speech, call 999 for an ambulance.

At least 46,000 people have a mini-stroke (or TIA – transient ischaemic attacks) each year. While generally not fatal, it's important to seek medical attention immediately. Research shows that not getting treatment for a TIA significantly increases your risk of having a life-threatening stroke in the near future.

5. Prescription drugs
Many prescription and over-the-counter-drugs can cause dizziness as a side effect, especially blood pressure medication. If you start to experience light-headedness or dizzy spells after taking a new medication, speak to your GP, who may suggest switching to a different kind of drug.

6. Low blood pressure
Low blood pressure, or hypotension to give it its proper name, is where blood pressure in your arteries is abnormally low. In most cases, this won't cause any symptoms, but in some cases it can restrict the amount of blood flowing to your brain and other vital organs, which can cause dizziness or fainting. Postural hypotension is often to blame for the dizziness you feel on standing up.

Your GP may suggest that you eat more salt or drink more water, or advise you to wear compression stockings to stop blood from pooling in your legs. There are also medications available which can help to raise blood pressure.

7. Anaemia
Anaemia, caused by low levels of iron in the body, is associated with low-energy, but can also make you feel light headed. If you're suffering with fatigue as well as feeling dizzy, see your doctor who can do a simple blood test. Taking iron supplements should help.