Signs and Symptoms: When it’s Unclear What Causes Dizziness

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Woman suffering from a spinning head. What causes dizziness for her?Dizziness and light-headedness are the most common reasons for doctor visits. However, doctors are sometimes perplexed as to what causes dizziness. Much patience and diligence is needed to find the right doctor who will properly diagnose and then treat the actual cause or causes of your dizziness.

What Causes Dizziness: Many Root Causes

There are many possible causes of dizziness. It can often be seen in a variety of conditions. Stress overload and intense anxiety can sometimes lead to disorders of the cerebellum. This happens when sensory signals experience a kind of short-circuit. Many times, an imbalance or unsteadiness results. A dysfunctional nervous system and cardiovascular system can also be the cause of headaches, along with side effects of prescription medications. If you have had a conventional medical work up and no known cause is discovered, it may be time to look at adrenal fatigue syndrome (AFS) as a possible cause.

Adrenal Dizziness: Not Your Usual Dizzy Spell

Dizziness, in AFS, is not the typical dizziness associated with vertigo. Vertigo, in this case, is described as having light-headedness described as a sensation of floating or near fainting. Many times, imbalance and unsteadiness can result. During this time, blood pressure and all cardiovascular and neurological markers are usually normal.

Many causes can be responsible for the AFS light-headedness. Among some, are metabolic issues such as sugar imbalance, autonomic nervous system imbalances, ear problems, and chronic, prolonged, intense stress.

Let us examine metabolic imbalances such as low blood sugar as a potential culprit. Reactive hypoglycemia, where you have symptoms of hypoglycemia but serum glucose level are normal, are commonly associated with AFS. This can often happen in the setting of advanced stages of adrenal fatigue as your metabolism becomes deregulated. In such situations, the adrenals are unable to produce sufficient cortisol, a glucocorticoid hormone. As such, hypoglycemia can result and lead to light-headedness or dizziness. In addition, the thyroid helps to regulate your metabolism as well and plays a role in what causes dizziness. Lastly, low blood pressure, as commonly associated with AFS, due to deregulation of salt balance, may also be a potential cause of dizziness as well. When blood pressure drops, blood flow to the brain decreases and can result in a light headed feeling. AFS sufferers are often dehydrated. The lack of fluid may cause postural hypotension and dizziness. Perhaps the most frequently overlooked cause of dizziness is prescription medications as well as stimulatory glandular compounds and herbs such as maca, rhodiola, ashwagandha, green tea, and licorice. Caffeine, interesting enough, often can reduce dizziness because of its constricting effect (if, in fact, what causes dizziness is hypotension and reduced vascular volume).

The above mentioned multiple pathways that can result in dizziness are often the result of a deregulation of the cardionomic system, which is a part of the Neuroendometabolic (NEM) stress response system, that the body has to react to stress. The cardionomic system revolves around the triad organ systems of adrenals, heart, and autonomic nervous system. When your adrenals are weak, often times, the autonomic nervous system will have to compensate, this may lead to hyperadrenergic orthostatic hypotension, which can be a cause of dizziness. This often happens after taking a hot bath, or standing up too quickly. It can be so severe that you can actually pass out from the drop in blood pressure. Low blood pressure can also be a result of low aldosterone levels. Aldosterone is a hormone that is produced by the adrenals. It functions to help regulate your blood pressure and fluid levels. Low aldosterone means that your body will lose more water and salt, and as a result, your blood pressure will lower.

AFS And The Nature Of The Beast

Enough stress can overload your body and become what causes dizzinessStarting out, perhaps as a weakening of strength and energy, AFS may actually have begun years before by burning the proverbial candle at both ends and having chronic stress overload. Advancing, unattended, and misdiagnosed by most physicians, the AFS sufferer wanders from one doctor to another looking for help–and not receiving it.

Overtime, you may exhibit an inability to focus or concentrate, a lack of memory retention, having brain fog, imbalance, weakness, mild depression, restless leg syndrome (RLS), an inability to sleep and a gradual inability to do the simplest of everyday chores, are telling symptoms of AFS. Family life is sacrificed, jobs are lost and almost everything in life comes to a standstill.

Thyroid dysfunction is often suspected even though the adrenal glands may be the underlying cause. As a result, medication for a low thyroid is dispensed, and this sets off another cascade of symptoms involving the thyroid gland, one of the most important organs in the human body.

Sad to say, many conventional doctors do not even acknowledge that there is such an illness other than Addison Disease. To even suggest something like adrenal insufficiency is tantamount to being considered a medical quack in some quarters. Many patients leave their doctor’s office with the explanation of, “It’s all in your mind, you just need a vacation,” ringing in their ears. They continue on in a “zombie-like” type of existence where jobs and careers, care for the family and the desire to keep on living ceases.

Healing the adrenals

A healthy meal as part of proper diet addressing what causes dizzinessWhen it comes to helping deal with dizziness in the setting of adrenal fatigue, it is important to find the root of what causes dizziness, be it low blood sugar, or blood pressure problems. Often times it can be a combination of factors affecting your body. Helping the adrenals get stronger is one of the main ways to help alleviate dizziness. Here are some suggestions.

  • Vitamin C at high doses and other supplementation including some herbs.
  • Never pushing beyond what the body is calling for; listen to your body.
  • As soon as your body says, “Rest,” then rest.
  • Too much exercise could bring on a relapse of the illness. Instead, try yoga or Tai Chi.
  • Suspension of any exposure to electronic equipment emitting EMF waves including PC monitors, Wi-Fi systems, LED lights at night and your use of cell phones up to four hours before going to bed.

One vitally important aspect of AFS recovery is stress management and learning to deal with toxic relationships. Many times, stress overload from undesirable relationships lay at the root of AFS suffering; cutting some of them off may begin the healing process from AFS.

Another aspect of recovery includes lifestyle changes that will be mandated depending on the severity of AFS that the patient is manifesting. Perhaps eliminating a stressful job, changing living arrangements and changing one’s work hours are part of the new modifications required.

Helping to resolve dizziness in the short term revolves around managing the cause of the dizziness. If it is from hypoglycemia, eating small frequent meals to help balance your blood sugar is an easy lifestyle change to make. If it is due to low fluid and electrolytes, drinking salt water may help to resolve that. A deregulated autonomic nervous system is tougher to balance, but adrenal breathing exercises are a good method to help calm your body down and regulate the autonomic nervous system.

It is of vital importance that anybody suffering from dizziness gets a full workup to rule out any other possible causes. Dizziness is a serious symptom and can lead to accidents, and as such, must be taken seriously. The right support at the right time can go a long ways to relieve this symptom without damaging the body. Suppressing the dizziness with medications can mask the underlying problem and is not recommended. Supporting the adrenal glands properly, without the use of stimulants, is conducive to the healing process. Always seek professional help. What works for one person may make another person worse. Every body is unique in its response.

? Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Woman suffering from a spinning head. What causes dizziness for her?
5 -
Dr Lam and staff,
Hello from Sweden. I have just a couple of weeks ago started with the adrenalin yoga, and already feel I`m making progress and I feel in my body that it is good for me. I am also reading the book little by little. It feels very right for me. It is also a big comfort for me to know you are out there in the world helping people like me. WisheI was taught this adrenal yoga when I was little.
Thank you for now!!!!!


  • Jennifer says:

    Nellie…may I ask what Doctor you see at Cleveland clinic? I also started seeing a neurologist there for my dizziness, but not sure if he specializes in the vestibular system. So glad you have found relief!

  • Tracy says:

    This is a wake up call to me. As a mother of 3, 46 years old, and a perfectionist I have been burning the candle at both ends for a long time. I have brain fog, trouble retaining things, horrible sleep, migraines and restless legs. I have tested for low thyroid but dedicated thyroid supplements have made my restless legs worse. I really think the issue is adrenal fatigue. How do you get to sleep early with 3 teenagers in your house ?? And once in bed, the restless legs start.

    • Tracy says:

      Dessicated thyroid…., stupid spell check !!

    • wendy tanowitz says:

      Tracy, I have mild Restless Legs Syndrome but what has helped me is:
      **Magnesium Oil — rubbed on soles of feet at night (Life-Flo brand)
      **Hyland’s brand Restful Legs — a homeopathic remedy

  • Nellie says:

    I was dizzy for nearly 8 months, with no relief from doctors, blood work and MRI came back negative. Dizziness was made worse when there was a sudden death in the family and another horrible event. Finally,after months of dizziness, a naturopath mentioned I might be allergic to foods, like gluten. A vestibular neurologist confirmed celiac disease with a blood test. It took a couple of weeks, a month, for dizziness to go away and feel normal again after adjusting my diet. I think though, it was the emotional shock of the family member’s death that made this all worse, all the dizziness and weak feelings. I can’t tell you how many days and nights I spent trying to figure out what wrong with me using the internet, to no avail (I was certain it was my ears). Dr told me I also had b12 deficiency, and potassium defiency. I was also diagnosed with AFS, I do believe from emotional stress and the undiagnosed celiac. Please, if you’re dizzy with no resolution, go to vestibular neurologist, he/she will understand AFS and food allergies, vitamin deficiencies. He even tested me for POTS, but my heart function was great. There is help out there, you do not have to live with dizziness. My vestibular neurologist is at Cleveland Clinic. ..him and naturopath saved my life.

    • Antonio says:

      Wow!! I’m happy to hear you got to the source of your dizziness and was solved. 🙂 I will try this route too. thanks

  • Antonio says:

    Hello Dr Lam,

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience.

    My Name is Antonio

    I started with a liver and gallbladder cleanse (12 hrs) followed by a specific kidney and bladder herbal formula for 15 days. Now im taking an adrenal herbs formula designed for me and a chelation formula to detox from toxic metals founded in my body through the hair analysis.

    The diet consist in eating lots veg cooked and meat, low fat (slow oxidizer)

    I think this is the way to go, however both Mark and Phil dont have a definitive answer on two areas:

    1) dizziness: i feel constantly dizzy with light headache in the back of my head and ears

    @) urine: I urinate constantly and ofet i struggle to hold urine. it seems that more i urinate the more dizzy I feel

    PS: i went to a traditional doctor (GP) and she gave me a brief check and she exclude Orthostatic Hypotension or BPPV. She think my nose, ears are congested due to potential allergies and prescribed cortisone based drops, salt solution and more cortisone to clean passage and reduce fluid…

    Your opinion and suggestion would be highly appreciated


    • Dr.Lam says:

      Dizziness is often an indication of autonomic health in a case such as yours. Its rather complex and reflect deep seeded underlying issues still not resolved. Urination issues can be from many reasons. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances need to be addressed. Without much more detail, this is all I can say for now.

      Dr Lam

  • Gabriella Klein says:

    Where can I learn how to do Adrenal breathing?

  • Louise Tracz says:

    Visited your web site and most of my questions are answered now.
    Thank you so much for your contact information.
    As soon as all of our “normal” tests rule out any other organic cause and we are armed with more test results we will contact you via phone.
    Thank you again.

  • Louise Tracz says:

    Where are you located?
    Do you do consults on-line given the correct current medical information——blood tests/ECG’s etc?
    How do we purchase your books?
    Are there any naturopaths in Toronto Canada familiar with your work??
    Everything you have outlined is EXACTLY how my son is experiencing his
    “episodes” and we have had some positive improvement just by introducing salt water removing caffeine
    increasing hydration before finding your web pages so we think we are on the right track.
    Can treatment be self- initiated before all the western medicine tests are completed to rule out any
    organic cause.That is, empirical treatment that may help but won’t hurt.
    At worst he is experiencing 20 of these per day—at best 5
    I subscribed to your newsletter and today got #1 and do believe this started years ago and the doctors
    said it was all in his head !!!! Very frustrating indeed.
    I guess I need to know where to start—we have a naturopath and have sent him your links and
    awaiting his response—so far the recommendations he has forwarded have been disappointing
    mostly talking about stabilizing blood sugar which is a good thing but not the etiology of my son’s problem.
    Your descriptions —–FIT LIKE A GLOVE
    Please a little advice. Thank you in advance.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Your son’s problem is not unusual. unfortunately, we have many like this. We are located in southern california. Our clients come to us as last resort, and nothing you eluded to is unusual as far as we are concern, so that is the good news. Medicine is not that complex. If it walks like a duck and quack like a duck, you would be wise to think of a duck before you think of a zebra. The problem is that conventional docs are not alert on this, so it misses their radar completely. Our work is unique because we are the only people who take this as a full time serious endeavor and we coaching recovery service worldwide is a proven success if you qualify. Click Book – Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome – Reclaim Your Energy and Vitality with Clinically Proven Natural Programs for more information.

      Dr Lam