As people grow older, it’s surprisingly common to experience feeling woozy, lightheaded, or a little faint from time to time. This is an extremely common complaint among older adults. While lightheadedness is rarely life-threatening, it should not be ignored as it may lead to serious injuries from a fall.
If you are feeling lightheaded or woozy, having a drink of water or orange juice and lying down for a short time can help relieve the symptoms. However, if your symptoms last for more than 15 minutes, it would be wise to seek medical help in an urgent or emergency care setting.
Also note, even if your symptoms are brief and somewhat mild, and even if you suspect you know the cause, be sure to report your experiences with lightheadedness to your doctor. So without further ado, here’s five frequent and surprisingly common causes of lightheadedness:
You may become dehydrated if you’re overheated, if you aren’t eating or drinking enough, or if you’re feeling sick and run down. Without sufficient fluids, the volume of blood in your body goes down, lowering your blood pressure and preventing your brain from getting enough blood, resulting in lightheadedness.
A glass of water may be enough to help you feel better, but if you haven’t been eating well or drinking enough water for days on end, it will take more than a few sips to rehydrate your body. Depending on the degree of dehydration you are experiencing, you may require an intravenous infusion of fluids and electrolytes like potassium or salt to get back to optimal hydration.
Drug Side Effects
It is not uncommon for certain medications to make you feel lightheaded, especially medications that are intended to lower your blood pressure or make you urinate more frequently. For example, if the dosage is too high, certain drugs (like diuretics) can lower your blood pressure too much, too fast and cause you to feel lightheaded. However, the solution may be as simple as adjusting the dose or trying a different drug.
Sudden Drop in Blood Pressure
The autonomic nervous system helps the body regulate the shift in blood pressure when we stand up. As people get older, this system may deteriorate, causing a temporary drop in blood pressure when we stand — known as orthostatic hypotension — resulting in a feeling of lightheadedness. This form of hypotension may pose a long-term health issues, but there are a number of effective medications available to treat it, such as midodrine (ProAmatine) and fludrocortisone (Florinef).
Low Blood Sugar
When you don’t have sufficient blood sugar, every system in your body begins to slow down in an effort to use as little energy as possible, including your brain, making you feel lightheaded or confused. While it may only take a drink of juice to relieve your immediate symptoms, it’s best to get your blood sugar levels checked from time to time, especially if you require more glucose (sugar) in intravenous or pill form.
Heart Attack and Stroke
On a more serious note, lightheadedness may be a sign or symptom of a heart attack or stroke. Other symptoms of a heart attack often accompanying lightheadedness include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, arm pain, back pain or jaw pain. Symptoms suggesting a stroke are the sudden onset of headache, numbness, weakness, visual changes, trouble walking or slurred speech. In older adults, lightheadedness may be the only noticeable symptom of a heart attack or a stroke, especially if it doesn’t go away.