Why do we sometimes suddenly feel dangerous

Dizziness - what's behind it?

What is dizziness?

When our equilibrium is disturbed, we feel insecure in space. Walking and standing are difficult. Often there are other complaints, for example sweating, nausea or vomiting. Visual or hearing impairments are also possible. Those affected often experience dizziness as frightening. General practitioners state that around every 13th patient visits their practice because of dizziness. Older people are more likely to report dizziness than younger people.

How does dizziness develop?

Various senses provide the brain with information about the position of the body in space. This involves: vision, the perception of balance in the inner ears, as well as the sense of touch and depth in the skin, muscles and joints. When these senses send different information, the brain gets "mixed up". Sometimes the cause lies in the brain itself: it no longer processes sensory impressions properly. This is the case, for example, when it is not properly supplied with blood, lacking nutrients, or when toxins affect it. Psychological perception also has an influence on whether we feel in equilibrium or not. So dizziness can have many different causes.

What the doctor should know

The doctor can easily deduce the cause of the vertigo from the type and duration of the vertigo. Describe your vertigo as precisely as possible:

How do you feel about the dizziness?

  • "Like in a carousel" - vertigo

  • "Like boating, swaying"

  • "I feel light-headed."

  • "I am unsure when walking, my head is clear."

How long does the dizziness last?

  • Seconds, minutes, hours, days or longer?
  • Does it keep coming back or does it persist?

What else can be important:

Certain head movements, physical exertion or straightening the body from a lying position can cause dizziness, as can new glasses, certain medications and metabolic diseases such as diabetes. Tell your doctor or health care professional if you have any other symptoms such as vomiting, hearing problems, palpitations or a sad mood.


After the doctor has asked you in detail, he or she will examine you physically. This includes, for example: looking at your movements, eyes, ears and cervical spine; measure your blood pressure and pulse, and do various tests to check your brain and nervous system. After questioning and physical examination, it is often possible to tell what is causing the dizziness. Additional technical examinations or referral to a specialist are rarely necessary.

What does the doctor conclude from this?

In around half of those affected, the doctor cannot find a physical cause. Then, for example, the following are possible:

  • Old age vertigo: With increasing age, the organs and perceptions that are important for balance can change, for example the eyes, ears or the nerve sensitivity of the legs.

  • Psychogenic dizziness: It arises from emotional stress such as family and professional problems. It is often experienced as drowsiness and can occur with an anxiety disorder or depression. Other signs such as vomiting are unlikely to occur.

If the doctor finds a physical cause, the most common cause is benign positional vertigo in front. This vertigo occurs as a seizure several times a day for days to weeks. It takes a few seconds to minutes. It is triggered by rapid movements of the head, for example when getting up out of bed. The cause are tiny "ear stones" that cause confusion in the organ of equilibrium. Rarer causes of vertigo are other diseases in the inner ear or brain, for example inflammation or migraines.

Cardiovascular diseases, circulatory disorders in the brain (strokes), hypoglycaemia, problems with the cervical spine, nerve damage and poisoning can also trigger dizziness.


Dizziness is uncomfortable and affects everyday life. However, it is rarely dangerous. In this case, specialists should take care of the care.

Often no treatment is required. The body slowly gets used to the dizziness on its own. Then the complaints stop.

You should only take medication for dizziness for a short time, if at all. You can temporarily relieve the discomfort. But the body can only adapt to dizziness in the long term without medication.

In some types of dizziness, symptoms can be specifically improved:

  • psychogenic dizziness: emotional and medicinal support

  • Dizziness in old age: early balance training and physiotherapy

  • benign positional vertigo: certain movement technique (Positioning maneuvers) learn

What you can do yourself

  • If the dizziness has recurred, persists for a long time, or is very severe, you should consult a doctor.

  • Describe your dizziness and other complaints as precisely as possible. The doctor can use your description to determine the cause.

  • Try to be calm and be patient. The dizziness usually stops on its own.

September 2017, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians