What is Lightheadedness?
Most often referred to as feeling dizzy or experiencing a sensation of faintness, lightheadedness occurs when the flow of blood to the brain diminishes or weakens. Although the condition is common among many older individuals, it may affect anyone, regardless of age or gender.
What causes lightheadedness?
One of the primary causes of lightheadedness is when an individual stands too quickly; the result is a rapid decrease in blood pressure or orthostatic hypotension (nOH). In most instances, the feeling subsides rapidly and changing to a sitting position usually facilitates the recovery time. However, there are a variety of reasons an otherwise healthy person may experience lightheadedness such as:
- allergic reactions
- drug use (including alcohol, tobacco, or prescription and non-prescription medications)
- extreme temperatures (being exposed to excessive heat for extended periods)
- mental health issues (anxiety or stress disorders)
- sickness (common conditions including colds, cases of the flu, or decreased blood glucose levels)
Although many serious medical conditions are most often characterized by less common or more unique symptoms, lightheadedness may also result from illnesses including, but not limited to:
- craniocerebral traumas (traumatic brain injury)
- disturbed eating habits (anorexia, bulimia, binge or overeating)
- heart conditions (arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, or strokes)
- loss of blood or internal bleeding
- neurological disorders (epilepsy, muscular dystrophy or sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease)
What are the symptoms?
As with most conditions, the symptoms each person experiences may vary. However, after an episode, most people with a history of lightheadedness have indicated feelings of:
- a sense of imbalance when standing
- faintness or grogginess
- the sensation of spinning or motion sickness
Lightheadedness is similar to and sometimes confused with vertigo, the illusion in which a person feels as if he/she or the surrounding environment is in motion.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Individuals experiencing frequent lightheadedness should consult a medical physician for proper diagnosis. There are a variety of examinations used to determine the underlying cause of the condition including:
- blood tests to determine any heart conditions or infections
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if suspicion of head trauma or stroke
- various balance and hearing tests
While lightheadedness does not usually require medical attention, many physicians advise a course of prescription drugs, lifestyle changes, routine exercise, or therapy when the condition is persistent. If lightheadedness is the result of a serious illness, more intensive treatment, in extreme cases, surgery, may provide a long-term solution.