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What Causes Lightheadedness?

No matter how brief a bout of lightheadedness is, the experience can be uncomfortable, concerning and leave you feeling vulnerable. There are logical explanations for this ailment, though, as well as ways to reduce your risk of ever feeling like that again.

What Is Lightheadedness

Most bouts with lightheadedness are caused by a lack of blood in the brain and it’s usually a side effect of getting up quickly after sitting or lying down. In contrast with dizziness, lightheadedness makes you feel faint and you may also experience a sense of reeling. Light headedness can make you feel dizzy, too, especially if the cause is tied to a preexisting condition.

Reasons for Lightheadedness

Getting Up Too Quickly

As previously stated, a common cause of lightheadedness is orthostatic hypotension—a medical term that means getting up too quickly. Some doctors may refer to it as postural hypotension. This occurs if blood flow doesn’t reach your brain quickly enough after standing up from a seated or lying position. After a few minutes, the feeling should pass.

If it doesn’t, lightheadedness may be a warning from your body to seek medical attention. In older adults, conditions like low blood pressure can raise the likelihood of lightheadedness, while feeling lightheaded can signal a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke. If that lightheaded feeling is accompanied by a sudden headache, slurred speech, chest pain, back pain or arm pain, you may be experiencing a medical emergency.


If you’re having inner ear problems, vertigo may be a side effect. Contrary to popular belief, vertigo isn’t a fear of heights—it’s the feeling that your surroundings are spinning or you yourself are spinning or moving. You may also feel dizzy and experience a loss of balance. The experience can be very similar to feelings of lightheadedness and people may use these terms interchangeably, but be sure to recognize when your lightheadedness is accompanied by feelings like dizziness and vertigo.

Blood Sugar Levels

If you’re experiencing hypoglycemia—medical nomenclature for low blood sugar levels—lightheadedness is one of a litany of issues you could encounter. Low blood sugar can also cause confusion, blurred vision or a faint feeling that could escalate to an actual episode of fainting. The body uses sugar as a source of energy, and depriving it of that energy brings adverse results.

Low Iron

Iron is an electrolyte that helps the body create red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Low iron (anemia) can make you feel flush, tired, dizzy and cold, and can deprive your brain of the oxygen it needs to function at a healthy level. Lightheadedness is a possible side effect of this condition.

Ear Problems

Lightheadedness may stem from an ear issue, as the ears are tied closely to our sense of balance.

A perilymph fistula is a tear in the sensitive tissue that separates the middle and inner ears. It should resolve itself over the course of a few weeks, but until then, it can cause dizziness, noise sensitivity, a feeling that the ear is full and a ringing in the ear. This is in addition to balance problems.

A viral infection of the vestibular nerve, or vestibular neuritis, can cause nausea and balance issues. If it also impacts your hearing, the condition is classified as labyrinthitis. This condition should also resolve itself, but it could linger for a month or more.

Meniere’s disease can also cause a full feeling in the ear, as well as tinnitus, nausea and balance issues. The cause of Meniere’s disease is unclear, but it may improve with physical therapy, medication or dietary adjustments.

How to Treat Lightheadedness

Avoid Caffeine, Alcohol and Tobacco

In addition to causing dehydration, alcohol, tobacco, and drinks with caffeine contain chemicals that impact brain functionality. Lightheadedness and dizziness can occur if your body takes in an overabundance of any of these three.

Wear Compression Socks

If standing up is leading to your experiences with lightheadedness, standing up slowly and deliberately may help offset any issues with blood flow. If that doesn’t work, try compression socks.

Compression socks can stop blood from pooling in the bottom part of your legs, making it easier for necessary blood and oxygen to reach the brain when moving from a state of lying or sitting.

Monitor Yourself on Medications

Antidepressants, hypertension and heart medications can cause a dip in blood pressure, while insulin can work too well and push blood sugar too low. This issue can be more prevalent if you’ve started new medications or taking medications while enacting lifestyle changes like diets.


This lifestyle change provides the body with different nutrients than it’s used to, and it may not be enough of everything you need during the day. Make sure your diet is providing you with adequate nutrition, and if you have preexisting conditions, consider consulting a physician before changing your eating habits.

The Link between Hydration and Lightheadedness

The body uses water for everything from joint lubrication and waste transport to regulating blood flow. The latter can cause lightheadedness by making it difficult for blood to move around the body. This could deprive the brain of the amount of blood and oxygen necessary for healthy functionality.

As always, water is a great source of hydration, but making sure you’re getting electrolytes like iron can help curb other causes of lightheadedness while helping your body utilize hydration to its fullest extent. Many issues tied to dehydration also cause lightheadedness, so hydration is a great place to start if you want to avoid that feeling.

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