Three years ago I wrote an essay for Well about the chronic dizziness that had devastated my life. In response, I received thousands of letters, calls, tweets, emails and messages from Times readers who were grateful to see a version of their own story made public.
Their symptoms varied. While some experienced a constant disequilibrium and brain fog that were similar to mine, others had become accustomed to a pattern of short periods of relative health alternating with longer periods of vertigo.
Most of them, like me, felt that family and friends often didn’t understand how dizziness could be so debilitating. They told me that the combination of the loneliness and feelings of uselessness that come from an inability to work or spend time with family led to despair and depression. And, most commonly, they felt that the medical system made them feel responsible for their own suffering.
“Doctors began to suggest that anxiety or depression were the cause of my symptoms,” a young woman from Connecticut wrote. “I eventually gave up on the quest for answers, as their attitudes added stress to an already stressful reality.”
“Have been to so many doctors that keep saying, ‘It’s all in your head. There’s nothing wrong with you,’” wrote an older woman from Ohio.
“Mostly been told there is nothing they can find,” wrote a middle-aged woman from Illinois. Her doctor told her it was probably just depression and anxiety.
Dizziness is among the most common reasons people visit their doctor in the United States. When patients first experience prolonged dizziness, they may go to an emergency room or to see their primary care physician. That’s what I did. And I heard what most patients hear: “People get dizzy for all sorts of reasons, and it should resolve itself soon.”
It’s true that dizziness often is a temporary symptom. The most common causes of dizziness are benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (caused by displaced pieces of small bone-like calcium in the inner ear), and vestibular neuritis (dizziness attributed to a viral infection or tiny stroke of the vestibular nerve), both of which typically last only weeks or months.