Other Causes of Dizziness and Imbalance
You can feel dizzy and lose your balance for many reasons that are not related to vestibular disorders.
- Alcohol Misuse
Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, either through binge drinking or long-term alcohol misuse can cause dizziness and balance problems.
Light-headedness and dizziness are sometimes associated with food allergies.
- Cardiovascular Dizziness
Proper function of the balance system also requires appropriate nerve connections within the brain. If these balance areas do not get enough blood, even temporarily, dizziness and imbalance can occur. Often, special tests such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), X-ray or ultrasound tests may be needed to accurately diagnose these problems. Treatment depends on the cause, and may include medication, surgery, or vestibular rehabilitation. Causes of cardiovascular dizziness are varied and include:
A weakening of an artery wall that creates a bulge and allows blood to lead into the vessel walls. Aneurysms can cause serious dizziness and imbalance. This condition is a medical emergency – call 911.
An irregular or abnormal heartbeat. It can result in low blood flow to the brain, causing light-headedness and fainting. Fainting puts you at risk for losing your balance and falling.
Cholesterol plaques may narrow the arteries that supply blood to the brain, causing reduced blood flow. Dizziness may result.
- Heart Attack
Light-headedness, along with shortness of breath, back pain and fainting, are more common signs of heart attack in women than chest pain. This condition is a medical emergency – call 911.
- Heart Valve Disorders
When heart valves either do not open fully, or do not close tightly, blood flow to the brain may be impacted. This can cause dizziness.
- Orthostatic Hypotension
Blood pressure to the brain can drop temporarily when standing up quickly, especially in older people or people on blood pressure medication. This puts you at risk of losing your balance and falling. Also known as postural hypotension.
Openings in the neck vertebrae contain arteries that supply blood to the brain. When these openings narrow as a result of osteoarthritis in the neck, blood flow to the brain is restricted, resulting in dizziness. This condition is also known as cervical spondylosis.
- Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency (VBI)
Poor blood flow to the back portion of the brain is caused by blockage of the vertebral arteries that join to become the basilar artery. You may experience symptoms including vertigo (spinning sensation) and loss of coordination. These symptoms may be warning signs of a stroke – call 911.
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas produced by improperly ventilating burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel, can build up in your bloodstream. One symptom is dizziness.
Severe dehydration may leave you feeling dizzy or light-headed and unable to stand or walk normally. Causes include: not drinking enough during exercise; an illness that causes vomiting, diarrhoea or fever; and excessive urination in individuals with diabetes due to hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar),
Hyperventilation creates a low level of carbon dioxide in the blood. It might occur when you exercise strenuously or exhale excessively when you are under stress – this affects the function of brain cells and causes temporary dizziness.
- Illness or Infection
Some illnesses or infections, such as sinus infections, diarrhoea, bacterial infections of the middle ear and influenza, can cause temporary dizziness.
- Medication Side Effects
One or more side effects of many medications can affect your balance. Common problems include vision changes, dizziness, light-headedness, drowsiness and impaired judgment. Some medications, for example Gentamicin, damage the inner ear leading to temporary or permanent balance disorders. Medications that can alter balance include: antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants; antihistamines; anti-malarials; anti-psychotics; diuretics; cholesterol-lowering drugs; mucolytics; Parkinson’s disease medications; analgesics (both prescription and over-the counter); sleep aids (both prescription and non-prescription); and heavy metals. Sometimes it is not a single medication that causes the problem, but a combination of drugs taken together. Older adults are particularly at risk as drugs are metabolized differently as we age. If you think a medication may be causing your dizziness, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Causes of temporary dizziness during the menstrual cycle include anemia due to heavy bleeding (menorrhagia); hormonal changes; hypoglycaemia and migraine.
- Pernicious Anemia
Insufficient red blood cell production leads to Vitamin B12 deficiency. You may feel dizzy or unsteady, lose your balance and have trouble walking.
- Recreational Use of Drugs
One of the most common side effects of using marijuana is dizziness, especially when you stand up.
- Stress or Anxiety
Being stressed, anxious, tense, fatigued or irritable can provoke dizziness or a sense of imbalance.