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Lightheadedness is feeling as if you might faint. Your body may feel heavy while your head feels as if it is not getting enough blood. Another way to describe lightheadedness is as a "reeling sensation." Lightheadedness may be accompanied by clouded vision and a loss of balance.
While not always cause for concern, lightheadedness can sometimes indicate an underlying medical condition and can increase your risk for experiencing a fall. For this reason, you should take caution when you feel lightheaded.
Lightheadedness often occurs when you move quickly from a seated to a standing position. This positional change results in decreased blood flow to the brain. This can create a drop in blood pressure that makes you feel faint. You are more likely to experience this condition if you are dehydrated due to illness or insufficient fluid intake. The sensation may improve when you sit or lie back down.
Lightheadedness may be accompanied by nausea and dizziness. Dizziness is the feeling of being unbalanced or unsteady. It’s often caused by problems with the inner ear, brain, heart, or use of certain medications. According to Cleveland Clinic, 4 out of 10 people have experienced dizziness severe enough to send them to a doctor. Dizziness can be dangerous because it changes your sense of balance and can make you more likely to fall.
One type of dizziness, called vertigo, causes the false sense that your surroundings are moving or spinning when in reality they are still. Vertigo may cause you to feel like you are floating, tilting, swaying, or whirling. Most cases of vertigo are caused by inner ear disorders, which send signals to your brain that aren’t consistent with the signs your eyes and sensory nerves are receiving.
Besides dehydration and positional change, other common causes of lightheadedness include:
Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause lightheadedness.
In some instances, lightheadedness is due to a more serious condition, including:
Seek immediate medical attention if you have lost a significant amount of blood and are feeling lightheaded. Also, lightheadedness accompanied by heart attack or stroke symptoms should be immediately treated. These symptoms include:
Do not attempt to drive yourself to the hospital if you experience these symptoms. Instead, call an ambulance.
If your lightheadedness persists after a week or so or has resulted in an injury or nausea, see your physician. Also seek medical attention if your lightheadedness worsens over time.
This information is a summary. Seek medical attention if you suspect you need urgent care.
Lightheadedness that is not due to severe blood loss, heart attack, or stroke often subsides with time. Other treatments will address the underlying condition.
Treatment for the less-serious causes of lightheadedness may include:
For more serious cases of lightheadedness, or for lightheadedness that doesn’t go away, treatment may include:
Standing up slowly and avoiding sudden changes in posture can help to prevent lightheadedness. Drink plenty of water, especially when you are ill or exercising intensely. Avoid bright lights and wear sunglasses when outdoors.
Avoid substances known to cause lightheadedness, such as alcohol or tobacco. Antihistamines, sedatives, and antinausea medications may also cause lightheadedness. Do not discontinue taking prescription medications without your physician’s recommendation.
If you tend to experience lightheadedness on a regular basis, here are some additional tips to help improve the quality of your life:
Written by: Rachel Nall, RN, BSN
Medically reviewed on: Jul 18, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA, COI
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