It's probably not cause for worry if...
Call your doctor when...
- You're drinking a lot of alcohol or taking narcotics. Excessive dizziness can be caused by either.
- You're vomiting and have been in a car, boat, or plane within the last 12 hours. You could just be reeling from temporary motion sickness. If symptoms don't improve after a day or if they last more than three, call your doctor.
Go to an emergency room when...
- You've recently started taking medication, even nonprescription. You could be having a drug reaction. It's important to notify your physician so she can adjust your treatment and know what not to give you in the future.
- You have difficulty breathing or are breathing rapidly, and feel a sense of fear or unreality. These symptoms could mean you're having an anxiety attack. If it happens often, you may have a panic disorder and should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The dizziness occurs when you move your head or turn it rapidly, or it has lasted a few hours to a few days. You could be suffering from a mild inner-ear disorder.
- The dizziness is recurrent and accompanied by vomiting and a ringing in your ears—possible indications of a serious inner-ear disorder called Ménière's disease.
- The dizziness has lasted several weeks, and you also have hearing loss in one ear and/or pain, numbness, or tingling of the face. You may have nerve damage caused by a benign tumor called an acoustic neuroma.
- You start feeling dizzy immediately before a headache—dizziness frequently precedes (or accompanies) a migraine. You have a persistent headache that's worse when you wake up or lie down. This could indicate a brain disorder such as a tumor.
- The dizziness lasts more than two weeks—even if it seems fairly harmless, you should consider it a red flag that you may need medical attention. (Some potential causes include high blood pressure or low blood sugar.)
- You get dizzy after a blow to the head. You could have a brain injury.
- The dizziness is accompanied by crushing pain in your chest; pain or tingling in your jaw, neck, or arms; shortness of breath; or sweating. These are all signs of a heart attack. Call 911. Chew and swallow an aspirin, and drink a glass of water—this thins the blood, helping to get more of it to the heart.
- You also have paralysis on one side of your face, numbness or tingling in your arms or legs, slurred speech, blurred or double vision, or a sudden loss of vision in either eye. It's possible you've got multiple sclerosis, but these symptoms could also signify something more urgent like a stroke.
From Self-Diagnosis 101