Is the Fear of Falling Getting you Down?
Guest Blog by Marci Lait, Md., Blue Water Ear Nose & Throat/ A FYZICAL® Dizziness Fall Prevention Center
Falling is a significant problem that often leads to pain and suffering, time lost from work, family-related stress and in the worst-case scenario, can cost you your life. The statistics are astounding. Someone dies every 19 minutes from a fall and while death may not occur at the moment of the fall, among other things it can lead to fatal bleeding in the head, blood clots in the lungs, or pneumonia.
Complaints of dizziness should be taken seriously. As important as it is to identify any underlying medical problem, it’s just as important to restore function.
It feels like I must be having a stroke….
Understandably so, the first concern many people have when they fall or experience dizziness is whether they have a heart condition or have experienced a stroke. This is certainly a frightening thought, but it is not a common cause of dizziness.
The scope of dizziness is frankly dizzying. It’s a wide-ranging term and encompasses lightheadedness, spinning or vertigo, fainting or near-fainting, imbalance or disequilibrium, and staggering or irregular gait. Some of these symptoms can overlap. Fortunately, getting the full picture that includes the medical history and current medications as well as symptoms can help doctors determine whether or not it is a life-threatening condition and warrants additional tests.
If it determined not to be life-threatening, there are associated conditions that require treatment and should be addressed first. These would include treatment of low blood pressure, dehydration, low blood sugar and involve the evaluation of the prescriptions and doses used to treat these conditions.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), an inner ear condition that can cause several seconds of vertigo, can be a frequent culprit of dizziness. Patients who suffer from BPPV can experience severe symptoms from the simple act of rolling over in bed or turning to get out of bed.
BPPV is the leading cause of vertigo but is not a medical problem in the typical sense. Rather it is like a splinter that can usually be removed without repercussions. Left alone, however, it can lead to other problems.
BPPV occurs when calcium crystals in the inner ear become loose. In a free-floating state, these crystals send signals to the brain that cause an exaggerated and false sense of spinning. The truth is that many cases of dizziness have less to do with any medical condition itself and more to do with one’s response to it and habits you have developed over time in an effort to prevent it. That’s right….you may just be driving out of alignment!
Function, Function, Function….FUN-ction
When your doctor tells you that you have vertigo, it hardly makes you feel better. Maybe you’re given a prescription for meclizine, which quiets down your inner ear. Sometimes that helps, but sometimes it does nothing but make you sleepy, and occasionally it can make things worse. If there is no improvement, the next step may be a slew of tests. If those tests come back abnormal, at least there is something concrete that can be treated. But what if they come back normal and you continue to have problems?
That is why it is so important for your doctor to get the whole story and then address the fixable issues such as the calcium crystals. Other tests and referrals would follow as necessary.
When you are dizzy, off balance, or have fallen, your goal is obviously to be able to get back out into the world. A label of vertigo simply won’t get you there but rest assured, there are steps you and your health care providers can take to get you back on track. Addressing function is the key to keeping the dizziness from taking over. When it’s performed in an environment designed to maximize safety regaining function can even be fun.
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