How common are various causes of dizziness? A critical review

South Med J. 2000 Feb;93(2):160-7; quiz 168.


Background: Although dizziness is a common symptom in both primary care and referral practices, the relative frequency of various causes has not been well delineated.

Methods: A MEDLINE search identified 12 articles containing original data on the etiology of dizziness in consecutive patients. Study sites included primary care offices (n = 2), emergency room (n = 4), and referral clinics (n = 6). Each study's strength of design was graded using nine quality criteria.

Results: Dizziness was attributed to a peripheral vestibulopathy in 44% of patients, a central vestibulopathy in 11%, psychiatric causes in 16%, other conditions in 26%, and an unknown cause in 13%. Certain serious causes were relatively uncommon, including cerebrovascular disease (6%), cardiac arrhythmia (1.5%), and brain tumor (<1%).

Conclusions: Dizziness is due to vestibular or psychiatric causes in more than 70% of cases. Since serious treatable causes appear uncommon, diagnostic testing can probably be reserved for a small subset of patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dizziness / classification
  • Dizziness / diagnosis
  • Dizziness / epidemiology
  • Dizziness / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Research Design
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve Diseases / complications*