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October 24, 2018

5 Causes of Lightheadedness to Know

Lightheadedness—that reeling, woozy feeling that can make you actually feel faint—is a common complaint of older adults and can occur for numerous reasons. Many causes aren’t serious and come with simple solutions, but youshouldn’t ever ignore the feeling because its consequences—such as a fall—can be dangerous all by themselves. If the feeling persists, seek medical attention. 

Now, here are five common causes of lightheadedness.


This, according to a Harvard publication, is one of the most common causes. You may dehydrate because of heat, because you’re sick or because you aren’t taking in enough fluids. No matter why you dehydrate, when you do, your blood volume goes down, lowering your blood pressure, which reduces the amount of blood flow your brain receives.

The Mayo Clinic shares additional symptoms of dehydration, which for older adults can include extreme thirst, fatigue, confusion and/or less frequent urination and/or dark-colored urine.

Sometimes, having a glass or two of water can help, or perhaps some orange juice, if the dehydration isn’t advanced. Other times, you may need electrolytes—and, still other times, you’ll need to get IV fluids in a medical setting.

Side Effects from Medications

If you’re taking a new medication, check to see if side effects include dizziness/lightheadedness. And, even if a drug isn’t new to you, it can still cause these side effects. Usually, a medication causes these side effects if they lower blood pressure or cause more frequent urination but, even if they don’t, you should talk to your doctor about lowering your dose or switching medications. Your doctor may also decide that two or more of your medications are causing unwanted interactions and accompanying symptoms and so may adjust accordingly.

Low Blood Sugar

When your blood sugar is low, your body uses as little energy as possible to reserve the sugar it has. This means less energy is sent to your brain, which can lead to dizziness. When this first happens, try drinking a glass of juice to see if the problem resolves. If this becomes a pattern, though, talk to your doctor about getting blood sugar levels checked. This may mean you need more glucose through pill form or intravenously.

Note: If you experience this dizziness when you first wake up, you may be experiencing morning hypoglycemia. You can find more information about this condition and potential causes at Medical News Today.

Balance Disorders

HealthinAging.org lists numerous balance disorders that can cause dizziness in older adults, and notes that this feeling can be caused by several factors in combination. Quoting from the site, these factors can include:

  • inner ear problems, including vertigo
  • eye problems (cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration)
  • numbness in feet and legs (neuropathy)
  • arthritis
  • heart or blood circulation problems
  • long-term diseases of the nervous system (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer disease, others)
  • taking multiple medications

For an in-depth look at vestibular system problems, read this report: Dizziness and Imbalance in the Elderly: Age-related Decline in the Vestibular System.

Heart Attack or Stroke

The most serious causes of dizziness and lightheadedness are these two conditions. If you suspect either of these conditions, every second matters, so call 911 immediately. Sometimes, lightheadedness is the only symptom of these two conditions, especially if it doesn’t lessen.

More typically, a heart attack also has additional symptoms, such as chest pain, arm/back/jaw pain, shortness of breath and/or nausea. Strokes typically also have additional symptoms, as well, including numbness and weakness, sudden headaches, slurred speech, visual changes and/or trouble walking.

But, again. Do not second guess. Call 911 to get immediate medical attention.

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