Feeling woozy, a little faint, or lightheaded is a common sensation that people of all ages and demographics experience. Certain factors and issues contribute to lightheadedness and it may become a chronic issue. While lightheadedness is often simple to treat, it can also be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
A person may become lightheaded if they are dehydrated, usually due to overheating, being ill, or simply forgetting to drink water throughout the day. When the body does not have enough fluids, the volume of the blood goes down. This lowers blood pressure and prevents the brain from getting enough. The average male should drink around 15 cups of fluids a day, while females should drink around 11.
Medicinal Side Effects
Many medications include lightheadedness among their potential side effects. This is particularly true of drugs that lower blood pressure and stimulate urination. Diuretics are among the most common medications that cause lightheadedness. If the symptom becomes a frequent issue, a doctor may adjust the dose or switch to a different medication.
Blood Pressure Drops
When we stand up, the body’s autonomic nervous system helps control the shift in blood pressure. If the system deteriorates, standing may cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. This event, orthostatic hypotension, can cause lightheadedness. Even healthy or young people experience occasional orthostatic hypotension, though it is more common in older adults.
Low Blood Sugar
Hypoglycemia occurs when the body’s blood sugar level is lower than it should be. This often has connections to diabetes treatment, but anyone may experience hypoglycemia. With low blood sugar levels, a person can develop shakiness, sweating, fatigue, pale skin, and lightheadedness. Eating fast-acting carbohydrates or having a snack often resolves the issue.
Among the most serious causes of lightheadedness are cardiac issues like heart attacks and strokes. Other common symptoms of a heart attack are shortness of breath or nausea, as well as chest, arm, jaw, and back pain. A stroke may cause numbness, weakness, slurred speech, and sudden headaches. However, in older adults, lightheadedness may be the only noticeable symptom of a heart attack or stroke.
Various anxiety disorders can cause lightheadedness. Some people experience panic attacks that cause them to hyperventilate, leading to lightheadedness. People with phobias stemming from anxiety disorders may experience this sensation when confronting the source of their fear. Social anxiety disorders may trigger a similar response when thinking about social situations.
When to Seek Medical Help
Experiencing lightheadedness alongside any of the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke requires immediate medical attention. If the lightheadedness frequently results from low blood sugar, it could be due to diabetes. Chronic lightheadedness could indicate another underlying condition. Even if it does not, doctors may be able to prescribe medication or lifestyle changes to help manage the issue.
Lightheadedness vs. Dizziness
Though lightheadedness and dizziness are often interchangeable terms, dizziness is imprecise and usually refers to an issue like vertigo. Lightheadedness and other dizziness conditions tend to differ in their root causes. Inner ear issues are the most common source of dizziness, but conditions like Parkinson’s or Ménière’s disease may also be responsible.
Most cases of lightheadedness require only minor treatment, such as drinking more fluids or eating a snack. However, more serious cases typically require treatment options like
- Water pills
- Dietary changes
- Lifestyle changes, such as avoiding smoking and nicotine products
- Antinausea, antianxiety, or antimigraine medications
- Intravenous fluids
- Therapy to manage and reduce anxiety
People who regularly experience orthostatic hypotension should stand up slowly and avoid sudden changes in posture to prevent lightheadedness. Not smoking or using products that contain nicotine can also help. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid bright lights to eliminate some of the more common causes of lightheadedness. Some people may require medications, especially if lifestyle prevention don’t resolve the issue.