Scroll Top
19th Ave New York, NY 95822, USA

When Dizziness Strikes – Go to the ER or to a PT?

a header photo of a dizzy person for core physical therapy

This blog post was written by Robin Mulvey, a Core Physical Therapy PT who specializes in vestibular

Dizziness is a common umbrella term used to describe a wide range of symptoms: standing up too fast and feeling lightheaded, feeling like you’re spinning, woozy, floaty, or like you’re swaying on a boat.

That’s all considered “dizziness.”

These symptoms often stem from benign causes that can be easily diagnosed and treated by a certified vestibular therapist. But sometimes dizziness is a sign of a more serious issue, like a stroke or heart attack, that requires immediate medical attention.

How can you tell if your dizziness is a medical emergency or not? Ask yourself these 2 questions to help you decide if your first call should be to your vestibular PT or to the Emergency Room:

1. Is my dizziness accompanied by any other “red flag” symptoms?

Most benign causes of dizziness will present as an isolated symptom or have mild accompanying symptoms such as neck tension, nausea/upset stomach, ringing in the ears, eye strain, mild headache, fatigue/brain fog, etc. These additional symptoms may still make you feel pretty crappy, but they are typically stable and therefore not considered a medical emergency. Dizziness that is accompanied by red flag symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, constant vomiting, high fever, fainting, inability to walk, sudden onset severe headache, blurred/double vision, tingling/numbness in the extremities, confusion, or slurred speech can be a sign of a stroke, heart attack, or other time-sensitive health issues that require immediate medical care.

2. Can the intensity of the dizziness be changed?

Does the dizziness feel better or worse in certain positions or with certain movements? Does stretching your neck, drinking some water, or practicing deep breathing calm things down? Dizziness that changes intensity based on your head or body position, movement, hydration, etc. is very likely to have a benign cause. If you notice a pattern to your dizziness and can “predict” what will trigger it or relieve it, that’s a good sign that it is not a medical emergency.

On the flip side, if the dizziness is constant and the intensity does not change no matter what movements you do or how hydrated you are, it’s more likely there could be something more serious occurring and is best to seek immediate medical attention.

Dizziness can be a scary experience when you don’t know what’s causing it. Understanding the difference between benign dizziness and the signs of an emergency can ease the anxiety and help you make the important decision of where to seek help. If your answers to the above questions lean towards it being a medical emergency, get to the Emergency Room ASAP. If your dizziness feels more benign, you can safely call your vestibular physical therapist to get scheduled for an evaluation by contacting us here.

Leave a comment