Millions of Americans report problems with balance disorders each year. When most people feel like their balance is off, they may say they feel “dizzy”. In order to get a diagnosis of what is causing the problem, doctors often try to use more specific terms to define exactly what is going wrong.
The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines dizziness as “having a whirling sensation in the head with a tendency to fall.” Experts believe that more than 40 percent of Americans experience dizziness that is serious enough to get them to go to the doctor. Many are surprised to learn that their balance problems are actually in their ears.
In addition to making walking difficult, on-going dizziness can also cause fatigue as well as disinterest in everyday activities and leisure pursuits. In older patients, dizziness can result in falls that can cause serious injuries, including hip fractures which are a leading cause of death and disability in older people.
The word “dizziness” is a generic term that can encompass a variety of sensations. Your doctor may use more specific terms to isolate what is happening to your balance:
• Vertigo – the sensation that either your own body is spinning or that the world is spinning around you.
• Lightheadedness – the sensation that you are about to black out or faint
• Imbalance – the sensation of being unable to maintain your balance, or that you are falling
If you experience extended bouts of dizziness or if the problem keeps coming back, consider the answers to these questions to help your doctor determine what is going on:
1. Do you feel unsteady?
2. Do you feel like the world is spinning around you?
3. Do you feel like you are moving or spinning when you know you are sitting still?
4. Do you lose your balance or fall?
5. Do you feel like you are falling even if you aren’t?
6. Do you feel lightheaded, or like you are going to faint?
7. Does your vision become blurry?
8. Do you feel disoriented – do you lose your sense of time, place, or identity?