One should first discern whether the patient is lightheaded or dizzy, since many patients use the term “dizzy” to describe both conditions. A medical provider should make this distinction, but nurses also should assess their patients accurately to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Dizziness (vertigo) implies a sensation that either the patient or the room is spinning, moving or tilted.

Lightheadedness implies that the patient feels weak, as if he might faint (lose consciousness briefly). Patients may have had a near-syncopal or actual syncopal event as a result of decreased cardiac output, whether it’s from low blood pressure or cardiac arrhythmia.

The vast number of patients with true dizziness do not pass out. They might fall over from loss of balance, or have severe nausea and vomiting (resulting in dehydration) from what the brain perceives as motion sickness. Few causes of dizziness result from a neurological emergency, but a very small percentage do.

For lightheadedness, it’s important to find and treat the cause, whether from dehydration, medication, arrhythmia, or some other cause. Nursing interventions would include orthostatic blood pressures, monitoring regular VS, fluid and electrolyte replacement, medication education, fall and injury prevention, performing ECG as ordered, giving meds or stopping meds as ordered, doing I&Os, etc.

For dizziness, nursing interventions include comfort, positioning, fall and injury prevention, administering meds as ordered, med education, possible fluid and electrolyte replacement, etc.

This answer originally appeared on this Quora question on Vertigo Dizzy.

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