What is Lightheadedness?
Older adults commonly complain about feeling woozy, lightheaded, or a little faint.
The reason may not be something dangerous, but still, if you feel lightheaded, it is better to be careful. Serious injuries due to a fall can result due to lightheadedness even though there may not be a serious cause associated with it. Sometimes, the fall itself can be dangerous. If you feel lightheaded, take rest and stay hydrated. However, if the symptoms tend to last longer, consult your healthcare provider.
Usually, people who experience lightheadedness or have fainted are fine. In some cases, it could indicate an underlying medical problem such as an abnormal heart rhythm. Down the road, these problems could become life-threatening.
Dizziness or feeling faint can also be due to a decrease in the blood supply to the brain for a short period of time. Other causes of lightheadedness may include a low heart rate, hypotension (low blood pressure), or neurological problems. A decrease in blood pressure and heart rate are often not much of a concern, but in some cases, a serious evaluation is required.
What are the Causes of Lightheadedness?
The following are some of the common causes of lightheadedness:
When you are dehydrated, you may feel a sensation of lightheadedness, especially when you quickly stand up after sitting or lying in bed for a while. Feeling faint is caused by a decreased flow of blood to the brain. When there is insufficient water in your blood, both blood volume and blood pressure drop.
You may become dehydrated if you are sick or if you are not drinking enough fluids. The blood volume of the body goes down when there are not enough fluids in the body. Thus, the blood pressure is lowered and enough blood may not reach the brain. You may feel better by drinking a glass of water, but rehydration may take more time if you have not consumed enough food or fluids for several days. In some cases, rehydration may be done with intravenous (IV) fluids.
2. Standing up too fast
When you stand up too quickly, it may cause a sudden drop in the blood pressure. In most cases, this is not a matter of concern, but if you continue to experience dizziness, consult your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
There are also other disorders that are associated with problems in the regulation of blood pressure. They include:
- Hypovolemia (decreased blood volume)
- The heart not pumping enough blood
- Hormonal imbalance
- Autonomic dysfunction due to certain drugs or disorders
3. Side effects of drugs
Sometimes, you may feel lightheaded due to certain medications. There are drugs that can increase the frequency of urination or lower one's blood pressure. These medications include diuretics. With your doctor's help, changing your medications or changing the dose can fix the problem.
Other types of medications that can cause lightheadedness are certain pain relievers and anxiety pills. These medications can directly affect the brain and may cause a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate.
Allergy to certain drugs may also be another cause of dizziness. Severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis usually occur very fast and may cause a person's blood pressure to quickly drop, causing faintness.
4. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Low blood sugar can also cause dizziness and can happen when people skip meals, take excessive medications, consume less food and drinks than normal, or exercise too much. It can also happen in people who have diabetes, particularly those who take medications that help increase the levels of insulin in the body.
In some cases, this condition may need urgent medical care. Hypoglycemia is also considered as a potentially dangerous condition in people with diabetes. Without prompt treatment, a person with diabetes can faint, have a seizure, or go into a coma or severe unconsciousness.
Hyperventilation happens when a person starts to rapidly breathe. This condition occurs when the balance between the inhalation of oxygen and exhalation of carbon dioxide is disrupted. In this condition, more carbon dioxide is exhaled than oxygen is inhaled, which causes a drop in the level of carbon dioxide in the body.
When the levels of carbon dioxide in the body is reduced, the blood vessels that supply blood to your brain become narrow and cause symptoms, such as tingling in the hands and lightheadedness. Loss of consciousness may also happen when a person experiences severe hyperventilation.
6. Heart attack and stroke
In serious cases, lightheadedness may be a symptom of a heart attack or stroke. Aside from lightheadedness, symptoms of a heart attack include dyspnea (shortness of breath), chest pain, nausea, back pain, arm pain, or jaw pain. Other symptoms of stroke may include weakness, numbness, sudden headache, slow or slurred speech, vision problems, and difficulty walking.
However, lightheadedness may also be the only symptom experienced by older adults in a pending heart attack or stroke. For this reason, this symptom should never be ignored.
7. Abnormal heart rhythm
An abnormal heart rhythm is medically referred to as arrhythmia, in which the heart beats slow, too fast, or irregularly. When the function of the heart is damaged or compromised, the heartbeat pattern also changes. One of the symptoms of an abnormal heart rhythm is feeling lightheaded.
Even though arrhythmias are not always life-threatening, any abnormal heart rhythm should be evaluated by a doctor.
Anemia is a condition that is characterized by an abnormally low level of red blood cells (RBCs). Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is a protein that enables RBCs to carry oxygen all over the body. If a person does not have enough hemoglobin in the RBCs, the tissues and muscles will be deprived of oxygen and will be unable to effectively work.
Having low levels of hemoglobin in the RBCs may also mean that not enough oxygen can reach the brain, causing recurrent headaches, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
9. Stress and anxiety
Lightheadedness may also be due to stress and anxiety. However, feeling faint can also be anxiety-producing. Movement and sensing body positions are regulated by the vestibular system, which comprises the inner ear on each side, including certain areas of the brain and the nerve cells that connect these areas.
Experts believe that the areas in the brain that are responsible for anxiety and dizziness interact with each other and cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Imbalance, dizziness, and feeling faint are some of the common problems that the elderly may experience. Age-related cardiovascular problems may also cause lightheadedness. Aside from heart problems, adverse drug effects also contribute to lightheadedness in older adults.
When to Seek Medical Help
If you frequently experience lightheadedness or have lost a large amount of blood, seek medical help right away. When lightheadedness is accompanied by symptoms of a stroke or heart attack, immediate medical treatment must be given. Other symptoms of these life-threatening conditions may include:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Drooping on one side of the face
- Unexplained sweating
If you have any of these symptoms, call an ambulance for emergency medical help instead of driving yourself to the hospital. Make sure to see your doctor if you continue to feel lightheaded for a week or if the symptoms tend to worsen over time.