Understanding Dizziness During Pregnancy: Causes and Tips to Manage It
Dizziness during pregnancy is a common symptom experienced by most women. As your body undergoes significant changes to accommodate your growing baby, you'll likely experience lightheadedness during certain periods. Sometimes, dizzy spells may be accompanied by other symptoms, like severe abdominal pain, which can be a sign of an underlying pregnancy complication that needs immediate medical attention.
But while dizziness may happen from time to time, there are various lifestyle changes you can make to minimize this pregnancy side effect. Read on to find out more about how to manage dizziness during pregnancy.
What Causes Dizziness During Pregnancy?
Various physiological and lifestyle factors act individually or synergistically to trigger lightheadedness. Certain medical conditions may also make you feel faint. Identifying what’s ailing you is the first step toward addressing dizziness.
1. Low Blood Pressure
Hormonal changes, like an increase in progesterone and relaxin, cause your blood vessels to widen during early pregnancy. The good news? More blood containing essential nutrients is delivered to your baby.
But, dilated blood vessels can also lead to low blood pressure and dizziness, particularly in the first trimester. This effect is especially pronounced when you're getting up from a lying or sitting position.
Research has also shown that low systolic blood pressure may continue into the second and third trimesters. Systolic blood pressure refers to the force your blood exerts on arteries when your heart contracts. The bottom line? Be prepared to deal with dizziness during the later stages of your pregnancy too.
2. High Blood Pressure
On the other end of the spectrum, high blood pressure can also bring about dizziness during pregnancy. It's often associated with pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia — a serious medical condition that usually appears after week 20 (the second trimester). Pre-eclampsia is often characterized by lightheadedness, abdominal pain, and organ damage.
3. Low Blood Sugar Levels
Low blood sugar levels, otherwise known as hypoglycemia, can happen in pregnancy too. It's a common symptom in pregnant women with morning sickness. Nausea and vomiting make for a poor appetite, which often results in low blood sugar levels and even dehydration. This, in turn, makes you feel faint and weak.
Hypoglycemia can also appear in pregnant women with diabetes or gestational diabetes mellitus. Unlike normal diabetes, gestational diabetes only shows up during pregnancy due to certain hormonal changes that promote insulin resistance. As such, previously non-diabetic individuals may develop gestational diabetes when they become pregnant.
While diabetes and gestational diabetes are often associated with high blood sugar levels, both conditions can cause low blood sugar levels too. Certain diabetic medications, like insulin shots and glyburide, work to lower blood sugar levels in these individuals. However, blood sugar levels may drop too low, leading to dizziness.
4. Hyperemesis Gravidarum
We've mentioned how morning sickness leads to low blood sugar levels and dizziness, but have you heard of a more severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum?
Compared to normal morning sickness that affects 50-90% of pregnant women, hyperemesis gravidarum is a rarer condition that appears in 0.5-2% of all pregnancies. Yet, this extreme form of morning sickness is characterized by severe nausea and non-stop vomiting, making it almost impossible to eat or drink. Often, the affected individuals suffer from serious nutritional deficits and dehydration, resulting in hospitalization.
As your pregnancy progresses and the growing baby demands more from your body, it's typical for pregnant women to experience dehydration due to:
- Not drinking enough water
- Intense exercise workouts
- Morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum
When your body lacks enough water to support you and your baby, lightheadedness is often one of the warning signs. Other symptoms include headache, muscle cramps, thirstiness, dark-colored urine, and exhaustion. Sometimes, dehydration may even cause Braxton Hicks contractions — false labor pains when the womb contracts and relaxes.
6. Growing Fetal Weight
As you approach the second and third trimesters, the growing baby weight causes your uterus to expand. This exerts pressure on the blood vessels, which restricts blood flow and leaves you feeling faint.
Lying on your back worsens the problem since the supine position makes it easy for your baby to press on the inferior vena cava — a large vein that transports blood from your legs and abdomen back to your heart. When the vena cava can't perform its job properly, it leads to inferior vena cava compression syndrome, a condition that gives rise to dizzy spells, nausea, low blood pressure, and sweating.
Higher-than-usual body temperature is another common cause of dizziness during pregnancy. Here are some reasons why you may be feeling overheated:
- Hormonal changes
- Increased blood volume to transport sufficient nutrients and oxygen to your baby
- A faster heart rate to pump enough blood to your uterus
- Your baby generates its own body heat which is then absorbed by you
According to a 2016 study in the Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, your blood volume increases by 50% when you reach week 34 (during the third trimester) of your pregnancy. At the same time, red blood cells grow in number to carry sufficient oxygen and nutrients to your growing baby. Yet, the increase in red blood cells often falls behind the significant increase in blood volume, leading to a condition known as anemia.
Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent causes, accounting for 75% of anemia cases in pregnancy. But why is this so? Iron is needed to create hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying substance present in red blood cells. When your iron intake is low, your cells will not receive enough oxygen, leading to dizziness and tiredness.
Besides a low iron intake, folate and vitamin B12 deficiencies can also trigger anemia in pregnancy. Folate and vitamin B12 help make healthy red blood cells. When these essential vitamins are in low quantities, inadequate nutrients will be delivered to your baby. This heightens the risk of birth defects like neural tube abnormalities.
How To Manage Dizziness During Pregnancy
After understanding the causes of dizziness during pregnancy and their resulting risks, here's how you can minimize the occurrence of dizzy spells.
1. Prevent Dehydration With DripDrop ORS
Preventing dehydration is essential to managing dizziness during pregnancy. Make sure to drink enough fluids every day.
But, it's important to note that water alone won't act fast enough if you're already dehydrated. And sometimes, due to nausea, or even forgetfulness, it's challenging to consume enough fluids during pregnancy to ensure you don't become dehydrated.This is where DripDrop ORS, a scientifically formulated oral rehydration solution, comes in.
DripDrop ORS was created by a doctor to treat and prevent mild to moderate dehydration. Using a medically balanced ratio of sodium and glucose to help with absorption, DripDrop ORS provides dehydration relief fast. Compared to sports drinks, DripDrop ORS is armed with 3x the electrolytes and half the sugar. Most importantly, it's gluten-free, contains natural colors, and is safe for pregnant women. Of course, it's best to check with your obstetrician first before adding anything new to your diet during pregnancy.
2. Take Small, Frequent Meals
It goes without saying that a healthy diet is essential for a healthy pregnancy. But what if morning sickness and a poor appetite prevent you from consuming three full meals a day?
Eat a larger number of small meals instead. This will help provide your body with enough sustenance to keep your blood sugar levels in check. At the same time, the small food portions make it easier to keep food down. You can also try natural nausea remedies like ginger tea to improve your appetite and maintain stable food intake.
3. Get Enough Iron, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B12
Another way to prevent anemia and the resulting dizziness during pregnancy is to get enough iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12 daily. Choose foods like:
- Dark, leafy greens
- Fruits and juices
- Fortified cereals
- Whole wheat bread and grains
- Nuts and legumes
- Red meat and organ meats
Also, speak with your obstetrician to identify the exact cause of your anemia during pregnancy. Is it due to a lack of folate or insufficient iron? Given that iron deficiency accounts for the majority of anemia during pregnancy, your obstetrician may recommend you to take an iron supplement too.
4. Sleep on Your Left Side
Remember the part about how your baby may be pressing on the vena cava when you’re lying on your back? Since the vena cava is located on the right side of your body, prevent lightheadedness by sleeping on your left side instead.
If your bump makes for an uncomfortable side sleeping position, invest in a pregnancy pillow. The unique pillow shape keeps the strain off your back and hips so that you wake up pain-free and well-rested.
5. Get Up Slowly
Get up slowly from a supine or sitting position. If you stand up too quickly, the blood flow will not reach your brain in time, causing you to feel lightheaded.
6. Keep Cool
To prevent overheating and the subsequent lightheadedness, here’s what you can do:
- Avoid crowded areas and rooms.
- Avoid hot baths, hot tubs, and saunas — opt for lukewarm water instead.
- Try not to go outside between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hottest times of the day.
- If you have to go outside in the heat, bring along a hat and an umbrella, and seek shade whenever possible.
- Wear loose, breathable clothing that sits comfortably on your skin, especially your undergarments. Avoid tight clothing as these can restrict blood flow and worsen feelings of extreme heat and dizziness.
- Don't work out too hard — overly intense workouts can overheat your body, making you feel faint and weak.
- Drink enough fluids.
7. Avoid Standing for Long Periods
Standing for long periods makes it easy for blood to accumulate in the lower extremities, particularly your legs and feet. This leaves less blood flowing through your upper body, which results in dizziness.
If you have to stay on your feet for a while, shift from foot to foot, and move around regularly. This helps improve your blood circulation while standing. You can also wear compression stockings, which not only relieve swollen feet but also prevent blood from pooling in your legs.
8. Consult Your Healthcare Provider
Prenatal care is essential for a healthy pregnancy. Go for checkups regularly and consult your obstetrician if you need a more in-depth diagnosis and prevention plan for dizziness.
In addition to feeling lightheaded, seek medical help if you're also experiencing complications like vaginal bleeding or severe abdominal cramps. These pregnancy symptoms are often warning signs of a more serious condition, like ectopic pregnancy, and require immediate care.
Dizziness During Pregnancy Is Manageable
Even though many pregnant women experience dizziness, it doesn't mean you have to suffer through the same ordeal. By making changes to your diet and lifestyle, preventing dehydration, going for checkups regularly, and practicing proper prenatal care, dizziness during pregnancy can be minimized.