How Do Patients and Otolaryngologists Define Dizziness?

Brianna L. Murphy, Jakob L. Fischer, Anthony M. Tolisano, Alvaro I. Navarro, Lily Trinh, Waleed M. Abuzeid, Ian M. Humphreys, Nadeem A. Akbar, Sharan Shah, John S. Schneider, Charles A. Riley, Edward D. McCoul*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: To assess for differences in how patients and otolaryngologists define the term dizziness. Methods: Between June 2020 and December 2022, otolaryngology clinicians and consecutive patients at 5 academic otolaryngology institutions across the United States were asked to define the term “dizziness” by completing a semantics-based questionnaire containing 20 common descriptors of the term within 5 symptom domains (imbalance-related, lightheadedness-related, motion-related, vision-related, and pain-related). The primary outcome was differences between patient and clinician perceptions of dizzy-related symptoms. Secondary outcomes included differences among patient populations by geographic location. Results: Responses were obtained from 271 patients and 31 otolaryngologists. Patients and otolaryngologists selected 7.7 ± 3.5 and 7.1 ± 4.3 symptoms, respectively. Most patients (266, 98.2%) selected from more than 1 domain and 17 (6.3%) patients identified symptoms from all 5 domains. Patients and clinicians were equally likely to define dizziness using terms from the imbalance (difference, −2.3%; 95% CI, −13.2%, 8.6%), lightheadedness (−14.1%; −29.2%, 1.0%), and motion-related (9.4; −0.3, 19.1) domains. Patients were more likely to include terms from the vision-related (23.6%; 10.5, 36.8) and pain-related (18.2%; 10.3%, 26.1%) domains. There were minor variations in how patients defined dizziness based on geographic location. Conclusions: Patients and otolaryngologists commonly described dizziness using symptoms related to imbalance, lightheadedness, and motion. Patients were more likely to use vision or pain-related terms. Understanding of these semantic differences may enable more effective patient-clinician communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-518
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology
Issue number5
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • definition of terms
  • dizziness
  • health literacy
  • patient-provider communication
  • symptom description
  • word-association


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