Coping with fainting: understanding the causes and symptoms
Take the weight off your feet
If you suffer a bout of dizziness or light-headedness while standing, lie down on the sofa or bed to encourage blood flow to the brain. After a few minutes, you should feel less dizzy. Sit up gradually and stay sitting for a couple more minutes before standing – slowly. Don’t drive, use hand tools or other machinery or climb a ladder when feeling dizzy.
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The incidence of postural hypotension – a fall in blood pressure when you stand up - shoots up from five in 100 people in the under 50s to three in ten aged 70+. It may be linked with heart problems and/or diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson’s, or with taking multiple medications (see below). Take more time to stand up and hold on to something as you do.
Read Saga's guide to preventing falls
Changes in body composition, reduced kidney function, blunted thirst, ailments, and being on multiple medications can all increase the risk of dehydration - a common cause of dizziness. Aim to drink around five eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Tap is fine, but if you dislike the taste, keep a water filter jug in your fridge and top up your glass or bottle regularly. Add a sliver of orange, lemon, lime or ginger, or a sprig of mint or lemon grass, to liven things up.
Dehydration: spot the signs when your body is crying out for water
Ask for a blood test
If you haven’t had a blood count done recently, get your GP to carry one out. Iron-deficiency anaemia can be a factor in dizziness and falls. Find iron in foods such as red meat, liver, kidneys, lentils, kidney beans, dark, leafy greens, and dried fruit such as figs and apricots.
How much iron do we need?
Anxiety, pain, too much caffeine, over-medication, restless legs or sleep apnoea can lead to sleeplessness - and dizziness. ‘Sleep hygiene’ – taking time to wind down before bed time, making sure your bedroom is quiet, calm and not too hot or cold, and making it strictly off limits for your mobile, tablet or laptop – can help you to more restorative nights.
10 healthy reasons to get more sleep
Check your medicine
Taking multiple prescription and/or over-the-counter drugs, may cause dizziness as a side effect. Particular culprits include blood pressure medications, diuretics, strong painkillers and some antibiotics. Ask the doctor or pharmacist for a medication review. But be warned: you should never just stop taking a prescribed medication.
Pick up a banana
Why? To replenish blood glucose, low levels of which can cause dizziness. Other good instant pick-ups include blueberries, fruit juice, a biscuit, ice cream or honey. If you have diabetes and regularly experience bouts of dizziness accompanied by sweating and confusion (hypoglycaemia) see the doctor or diabetes nurse – your medication may need adjusting.
The benefits of seeing a diabetes nurse
Mindfulness-based CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which involves becoming aware of your breathing and thoughts as well as other simple techniques, could help as part of a comprehensive programme designed to reduce the spin.
Eight unusual ways to practise mindfulness
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Get professional help
GPs and other non-specialists often misdiagnose dizziness. If simple steps don’t help, see a dizziness specialist as soon as you can. Ask your GP or self-refer to a physiotherapist specialising in vestibular rehabilitation, the treatment and management of dizziness - find a physiotherapist with an interest in vestibular rehabilitation acpivr.com/providers.
Seek medical assistance immediately if dizziness is accompanied by severe headache, problems speaking, numbness/weakness, sudden deafness in one ear, pain or discomfort in your chest and/or palpitations, as these could indicate serious problems.
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Read all about it
DizzyClear (available through Amazon) by Dr Khalid Bashir, who set up a pioneering dizziness clinic in Wales, has lots of advice on different types of dizziness. For useful booklets to download, visit brainandspine.org.
Our in-depth feature about dizziness appeared in the September 2016 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe to the print edition or download the digital edition today.