What is lightheadedness?
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
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:
- altitude sickness
- having a cold
- having the flu
- low blood sugar
- using tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs
- dehydration caused by vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, and
- very deep or fast breathing (hyperventilation)
- anxiety and stress
- use of tobacco, alcohol, or illicit drugs
Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can also
In some instances, lightheadedness is due to a more serious
- heart conditions, such as a heart attack or heart
beating out of rhythm
- internal bleeding (in your internal organs or organ
- shock that causes a significant blood pressure drop
to seek medical help
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:
- facial drooping on one side
- pressure or pain in the chest
- shortness of breath
- unexplained sweating
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.
is lightheadedness treated?
Lightheadedness that is not due to severe blood loss, heart
attack, or stroke often subsides with time. Other treatments will address the underlying
Treatment for the less-serious causes of lightheadedness may
- drinking more water
- receiving intravenous fluids
(hydration fluids given through a vein)
- eating or drinking something
- drinking fluids containing electrolytes
- lying down or sitting to
reduce the elevation of the head relative to the body
For more serious cases of lightheadedness, or for
lightheadedness that doesn’t go away, treatment may include:
- water pills
- low-salt diet
- antinausea medications
- antianxiety medications, such
as Diazepam (Valium) or Alprazolam (Xanax)
- antimigraine medications
- balance therapy, aka vestibular
rehabilitation (exercises to help make the balance system less sensitive
- psychotherapy to reduce
- antibiotic injections in the
inner ear that’s causing balance problems (this disables balance in that
ear, allowing the other ear to take over balance)
- removal of the sense organ of
the inner ear, known as a labyrinthectomy (a rare surgery to disable the
function of the inner ear that’s causing balance problems so the other ear
can take over)
can I prevent lightheadedness?
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
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:
- be aware you may lose your
balance when walking, which can cause a fall and serious injury
- move carefully and slowly,
using a cane for mobility if necessary
- prevent falls in your home by
removing things you may trip on, such as area rugs and electrical cords;
add nonslip mats to your bath or shower floor; make sure your home is
- sit or lie down as soon as
you feel lightheaded; lie down with your eyes closed in a darkened room if
you’re experiencing a serious bout of vertigo
- do not drive a vehicle or
operate heavy machinery if you often become lightheaded without warning
- eat a healthy diet rich in a
variety of nutrients
- get enough sleep (8 to 10 hours
for teenagers, 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults, and 7 to 8 hours
for older adults)
- avoid additional stress by
practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and
- drink enough fluids (at least
eight glasses a day)