What is dizziness?

Dizziness is the general term that most people use for all related symptoms in this category. Dizziness is what you will most commonly hear people call it when they feel “off.”

People that know what vertigo is are people who have had some further education on the topic. Either they have read up on it themselves or they have seen a healthcare provider who has educated them.

If you just meet an average person, they are usually going to call everything dizziness in this general category of discomfort. The descriptions really fall into three different symptom buckets. A person can have one, or any combination, of the following specific types of dizziness.


Being “off balance” is a general feeling of dysequilibrium. Equilibrium means feeling balanced when you are lying down, sitting up, standing, or walking.

Dysequilibrium is feeling unsteady or unstable in any of those positions. This may feel like you cannot walk straight or steady. You may not be comfortable walking while turning your head or carrying groceries while you are walking.

When you feel off balance, that’s dysequilibrium.

That commonly comes along with dizziness or vertigo, but not all of the time. Some people only have dysequilibrium with no dizziness or vertigo.


Vertigo is defined as a false sense of motion when you are lying or sitting still. Vertigo can be a distortion of otherwise normal motion.

I can give you some examples.

Vertigo might be that feeling of dizziness that occurs when you are lying on my bed and roll over to the side. You may feel like you are tumbling in a barrel off of the edge of a cliff or falling off the edge of the earth.

Another example is if you are sitting up on the edge of your bed, then you lie back on your bed, and feel like you are falling through space into a black hole.

Those are two examples of vertigo occurring with a false sense of motion when you’re otherwise still. You have landed in the position where you are on the bed, but you still feel like you are moving.

You can feel like you are spinning, rolling, tilting, or rocking.

It can also be in a sliding feeling, like you are sliding to the side or like you are sliding forward and backward, such as in a jerky car when someone is braking.

Those are the different ways that people may feel that they are moving when they have vertigo.

Another example of vertigo that might occur when you have a distorted perception of otherwise normal motion would be somebody who feels like they are walking straight. However, when I look at them walk, they are actually walking off to the right and veering off to the right side.

A second example would be a young lady that I see walking straight down her hall and to me she looks normal. But she says that she felt like she was walking down a ramp into the floor. She felt like she was walking down into the floor, but she was really just walking straight. That’s a distorted perception of normal motion.

All four of those examples fall into the category of vertigo.


Then there’s dizziness, which is the most common term that people use.

If you want to define it more medically, it is a feeling of lightheadedness, a feeling like you are going to pass out.

Dizziness is often associated with medical problems with blood pressure, blood sugar, nutrition, and hydration.

For example, if you are dehydrated and you stand up too quickly, you may feel a little wave of dizziness come over you. That is more of the medical definition of dizziness: sort of a lightheaded feeling like you are about to pass out.

It is not necessarily associated with any movement but it may occur after getting up quickly. You don’t feel like you are moving when you are dizzy, you just feel foggy brained or you feel lightheaded.

Dizziness is usually multi-factorial, so I recommend a professional consultation with a healthcare provider. All three of these problems (dysequilibrium, vertigo and dizziness) can be caused by medication side effects of certain medications.

Head over to Vertigo Detective to find more resources and information about Vertigo.


This blog is provided for informational and educational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.

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