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The dizzy patient: A review of etiology, differential diagnosis and management

1 April 1994


Introduction: Dizziness is a lay term used to describe a variety of sensations. Unfortunately, the term dizziness does not have a precise medical definition, so additional information is typically required to further define the patient's problem.

Classifications: When dizziness is a presenting complaint, distinctions must be made between vertigo (a sense of false movement), near-syncope (a feeling of impending faint), disequilibrium (loss of balance), and ill-defined lightheadedness (an inability to concentrate or focus the mind, e.g. , a "dazed" feeling).

Etiologies: Possible causes of dizziness include conflicts between visual and vestibular information, vascular problems, medication adverse reactions, psychological difficulties, systemic disease, and the effects of aging. Management: Dizziness is a symptom of a physiological or psychological illness, therefore management is typically directed toward treatment of the underlying illness. However, in some cases the cause of the dizziness cannot be found or is untreatable. In these cases, management is directed toward symptom reduction.

Summary: Dizziness is a relatively common problem that can arise from a variety of causes. In many cases, optometrists can participate in the diagnosis and management patients with complaints of dizziness.


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