Feeling lightheaded is common among older adults. It will usually improve if you drink some water and have a lie down, but don’t ignore it. Lightheadedness increases your risk of falling and sometimes it can be a symptom of something more serious.
What is lightheadedness?
Lightheadedness is different from dizziness. Dizziness is when you feel unbalanced and as if the room is spinning. Lightheadedness is when you feel like you might faint. Your body could feel heavy, you might feel nauseous and unsteady, and you may sweat. Your vision might also be affected.
Lightheadedness is often caused by a lack of blood in the brain. It can happen when you stand up from sitting or from lying down, or if you are dehydrated.
If you often feel lightheaded, while it’s probably nothing that is life-threatening, it can still affect your life. It’s therefore worth seeing your doctor to find out why you feel lightheaded.
What causes lightheadedness?
The main causes of lightheadedness are:
- dehydration – this can happen if you haven't had enough to drink, if it's very hot, or if you are sick
- side effects of some medicines
- a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand up quickly
- low blood sugar
- a heart attack or stroke
- problems in the middle ear
- an anxiety disorder or panic attack
- low iron levels in your blood (anaemia)
- losing a lot of blood
Sometimes people feel lightheaded when they have vertigo, a sense that the room is spinning. This is normally caused by a condition in your inner ear.
You will usually feel better if you have a drink of water, eat something sugary and lie down. If they go to hospital, some people will need to take in fluids through an intravenous drip.
If your lightheadedness lasts for a long time and doesn’t go away, your doctor might look at any medicines you’re taking and prescribe diuretics, a low-salt diet, or medicines to treat the underlying cause of your symptoms.
If you feel lightheaded, be careful that you don’t fall over and injure yourself. Sit or lie down until you feel better, and don’t drive a car or operate heavy machinery.
How to prevent lightheadedness
Make sure you drink enough water throughout the day and avoid getting too hot.
Cut back on caffeine, alcohol, salt and smoking since these can increase your chance of getting lightheadedness. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and avoiding stress can also help.
When to seek help for lightheadeness
See a doctor if your lightheadeness doesn’t go away after a week or if you are feeling nauseous and unwell. You should also seek help if your lightheadness causes you to injure yourself.
Call an ambulance on triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if you are very lightheaded and you also:
Last reviewed: June 2018