Dr. Tariq Jagnarine
Lightheadedness is a feeling of faintness, dizziness, or being close to passing out. It can occur alongside vertigo, which affects balance and makes a person feel as though they or their surroundings are spinning. Although lightheadedness and vertigo can have similar feelings, they have different causes.
Experiencing some episodes of lighthead- edness is normal. In most cases, those episodes would pass quickly, especially if a person sits or lies down to rest.
Causes of lightheadedness can include illnesses, anxiety, and dehydration.
• The most common cause of lightheadedness is orthostatic hypotension, which is a sudden drop in blood pressure when a person stands up.
• Positional changes, especially quick ones, divert blood flow temporarily from the brain to the body. It is more likely that this would result in lightheadedness when a person is dehydrated or ill.
• The feeling usually passes quickly, especially if a person sits down again.
• Other common causes of lightheadedness include:
o Illnesses, such as the cold or flu
o Altitude sickness
o Prolonged exposure to hot weather
o Low blood sugar
o Alcohol, tobacco, or drug use
o Certain medications
Sometimes lightheadedness may have a more severe underlying cause, such as:
• Heart attack
• Inner ear disorders
• Internal bleeding
• Blood loss
• Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
• Conditions that affect blood flow
• Head injuries
• Eating disorders
If lightheadedness is due to a more serious underlying condition, a person would usually experience additional symptoms.
A person should drink lots of water in hot weather, in order to reduce the risk of falling or fainting. Most of the time, a person experiencing an episode of lightheadedness can manage their symptoms with home remedies and lifestyle changes.
A person who is prone to experiencing dizziness or lightheadedness should use the following tips to reduce their risk of falling or fainting:
• Getting up slowly after sitting or lying down.
• Drinking lots of water, especially in hot weather or during exercise.
• Eating or drinking something sugary or with simple carbohydrates when feeling faint.
• Lying or sitting down until the episode passes.
• Getting enough sleep.
• Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.
• Limiting salt intake.
Anyone who thinks that their medication may be causing lightheadedness should speak to a doctor.
While lightheadedness does not usually require medical care, a doctor may sometimes recommend one of the following treatments, depending on the underlying cause:
• Physical therapy
• Compression stockings to keep blood from pooling in the legs
Medications could include:
• Anti-anxiety medications
• Anti-nausea medications
• Medications for migraines
If a doctor recommends physical therapy for lightheadedness, a physical therapist is likely to teach a person exercises that improve their balance.
In people who have lightheadedness due to anxiety, a doctor may recommend psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help them manage this condition. A therapist may provide other coping mechanisms to reduce a person’s stress levels.
In very rare cases, a doctor may advise surgery for repeated episodes of lightheadedness and vertigo. A surgeon would perform a labyrinthectomy, which is the removal of part or all of the inner ear.
A person should seek emergency medical attention if chest pain accompanies lightheadedness or dizziness. Most people do not need to seek medical attention for an occasional episode of lightheadedness. However, it is essential to seek emergency medical attention for lightheadedness or dizziness when one or more of the following symptoms accompany it:
• Weakness on one side of the body
• Facial drooping or numbness
• Slurred speech
• Chest pain
• Pain in the arm, neck, or jaw
• Sudden severe headache
• Numbness or inability to move the arms or legs
• Vision changes, such as double vision
• Rapid or irregular heartbeat
A person should also see a doctor immediately if lightheadedness occurs following a head injury. Anyone who has concerns about lightheadedness should speak to a doctor.