Every now and then, you may move from laying down to standing up when it hits you: you feel lightheaded. Most of the time, that feeling will quickly fade, and you'll feel back to normal.
There can be some cases in which feeling like you might faint could be serious, or should be closely monitored, at least. We put together this guide to help you know the signs to look for and if you are at risk for lightheadedness.
Dizziness vs. lightheadedness
It's easy to confuse dizziness with lightheadedness and vice versa. But when talking to your physician, it's important to know the difference.
Dizziness refers to a feeling of imbalance as if the room is spinning whereas being lightheaded can make you feel faint. You might also feel nauseous and sweaty and experience blurred vision when you are lightheaded.
What can cause lightheadedness?
A sudden drop in blood pressure
One of the most common causes of feeling lightheaded is orthostatic hypotension.
Rapid changes in our body's position, like standing up too quickly, can temporarily delay blood flow from the brain to the body, causing a drop in blood pressure. As a result, you can feel lightheaded or faint.
When the body loses or uses more fluid than it's taking in, it can become dehydrated. This can result from being sick, not drinking enough water, or from overheating.
Without the proper amount of fluids, our bodies can't function normally, causing a decrease in blood pressure and blood to the brain leading to lightheadedness.
If you become dehydrated and feel faint, getting a glass of water might be all you need. However, if you are severely dehydrated, you may need an intravenous infusion (IV) of fluid. See your doctor or a healthcare provider right away if this occurs.
Low blood sugar
Low blood sugar, also called hypoglycemia, can occur when someone with Type 2 Diabetes takes too much insulin, doesn't have enough carbs, skips a meal, waits too long between meals, or drinks alcohol.
However, it's important to note that non-diabetics can also experience low blood sugar, especially from fasting, complications during pregnancy, reactive hypoglycemia, hormonal changes, certain medications, or gastric bypass surgery.
No matter the cause, when your blood sugar drops, your brain automatically tries to conserve as much energy as possible which can cause lightheadedness. Experts recommend when you experience hypoglycemia, act quickly by eating or drinking 15 to 20 grams of fast-acting carbs. This can be from drinking juice or soda or eating a piece of candy.
A side effect of some medications
Lightheadedness can be a side effect of medications, especially when you first start taking them.
Examples of medicines that may cause you to feel lightheaded are:
Over-the-Counter- Benadryl, Sudafed
Before starting a medication, always speak to your doctor and pharmacist about all potential side effects. If the feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness doesn't improve or gets worse, let your healthcare provider know as they may need to change your dose.
If you feel lightheaded and have a sudden headache, numbness, vision changes, slurred speech, confusion, and/or trouble walking, seek medical attention right away, as these could be signs of a stroke.
There are a few different heart problems that can result in lightheadedness.
Signs of a heart attack that can accompany feeling lightheaded include:
Shortness of breath
Pain or discomfort in the arm, back, and jaw
Pain in one or both arms and shoulders
Again, you should seek emergency care right away, as situations with your heart can be very serious.
While feeling light headed from time to time can be expected, see your doctor as soon as possible if it doesn't go away or impacts your ability to function.
Seek emergency care if you experience new, severe dizziness or lightheadedness and any of the following: sudden, severe headache, chest pain, numbness/weakness on one side of your body, or experience a fall or loss of blood.
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