Basic Facts

Many older adults experience dizziness. (Some other words people use to describe dizziness can include unsteadiness, lightheadedness, wooziness, vertigo, or a floating feeling.) Strong or persistent feelings of dizziness are concerning and should be shared with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Dizziness can be acute (happening suddenly) or chronic (ongoing over time). Dizziness can be a result of a problem of one specific system in the body or it can be the result of multiple issues together. It is important to make a note of the symptoms you have when you’re dizzy, the timing of the dizziness and how long it lasts, and any relationship of dizziness to food, medications, or activity. Dizziness associated with episodes of spinning or rotation of self or environment is called vertigo.

Experiencing symptoms of dizziness that come on before a fainting episode is called presyncope. Dizziness can be secondary to medications, changes in blood pressure, heart conditions, neurological conditions or conditions of the inner ear.

Why understanding and reporting dizziness is important

Your feelings of dizziness may last only a few seconds or go on for days, weeks, or even longer. When you are dizzy, you may find it hard to maintain an upright position while the feeling lasts. You may not be able to carry out simple daily activities such as bathing, dressing, cooking, eating, or getting around your home. Dizziness increases risk of falls. Dizziness can also be a symptom of other concerning neurological or cardiovascular problems. Therefore, it is important to determine the possible reasons of dizziness, have your healthcare provider conduct tests if necessary, and plan to prevent or address your dizziness.

.Types of Dizziness:

  • Vertigo.  A sensation that everything around you is spinning or moving, or that you yourself are spinning around.
  • Lightheadedness or “near fainting” (presyncope).  A feeling of weakness, or dizziness prior to fainting or with impending fainting sensations.
  • Imbalance or lack of equilibrium.  A feeling of imbalance, disorientation, and occasionally a loss of your sense of time, or place. (See Balance Problems chapter for more information.)
  • Dizziness due to other causes. Often, dizziness that comes and goes for a long time is associated with multiple causes.
    • Medications. Many medications have dizziness as a potential side effect. It is important to have a conversation with your primary care provider if your medications are causing dizziness. It is also important to disclose all over-the-counter medications or supplements you take to your healthcare provider so any possible reasons for dizziness can be identified.
    • The use of alcoholic beverages or recreational drugs, or the overconsumption of caffeinated beverages, can also contribute to dizziness.

How common are dizziness problems?

Dizziness is one of the most common reasons for older adults’ visits to their primary care providers, as well as to urgent care and emergency centers. The prevalence of dizziness in adults at 65 years and above ranges from 4% to 30%.  The prevalence increases with aging. Dizziness is more common in women compared to men.


Last Updated December 2020