Objective: To describe the spectrum of visits to US emergency departments (EDs) for acute dizziness and determine whether ED patients with dizziness are diagnosed as having a range of benign and dangerous medical disorders, rather than predominantly vestibular ones.
Patients and methods: A cross-sectional study of ED visits from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) used a weighted sample of US ED visits (1993-2005) to measure patient and hospital demographics, ED diagnoses, and resource use in cases vs controls without dizziness. Dizziness in patients 16 years or older was defined as an NHAMCS reason-for-visit code of dizziness/vertigo (1225.0) or a final International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification diagnosis of dizziness/vertigo (780.4) or of a vestibular disorder (386.x).
Results: A total of 9472 dizziness cases (3.3% of visits) were sampled over 13 years (weighted 33.6 million). Top diagnostic groups were otologic/vestibular (32.9%), cardiovascular (21.1%), respiratory (11.5%), neurologic (11.2%, including 4% cerebrovascular), metabolic (11.0%), injury/poisoning (10.6%), psychiatric (7.2%), digestive (7.0%), genitourinary (5.1%), and infectious (2.9%). Nearly half of the cases (49.2%) were given a medical diagnosis, and 22.1% were given only a symptom diagnosis. Predefined dangerous disorders were diagnosed in 15%, especially among those older than 50 years (20.9% vs 9.3%; P<.001). Dizziness cases were evaluated longer (mean 4.0 vs 3.4 hours), imaged disproportionately (18.0% vs 6.9% undergoing computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging), and admitted more often (18.8% vs 14.8%) (all P<.001).
Conclusion: Dizziness is not attributed to a vestibular disorder in most ED cases and often is associated with cardiovascular or other medical causes, including dangerous ones. Resource use is substantial, yet many patients remain undiagnosed.