Telling the difference between vertigo and dizziness

People often use the word “dizziness” when they are talking about a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Vertigo (a feeling of spinning or whirling when you are not actually moving).
  • Unsteadiness (a sense of imbalance or staggering when standing or walking). This sometimes is called disequilibrium.
  • Lightheadedness or feeling as if you are about to faint (presyncope). This may be an indication of a heart problem or low blood pressure.
  • Dizziness caused by breathing too rapidly (hyperventilation), anxiety, or depression.

It is important for your health professional to know which of these symptoms you mean when you say, “I am dizzy,” because the cause, diagnosis, and treatment are different for each symptom. When someone complains of dizziness, the symptom is vertigo only about half of the time.

For more information about whether your symptom really is vertigo, see the topic Dizziness: Lightheadedness and Vertigo. It can help you tell the difference between vertigo and other types of dizziness.

Last Updated: October 20, 2008

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