Feeling lightheaded upon standing may signal a much bigger problem. Read on to find out if your spins are normal or not
Why You Feel Dizzy When You Stand Up
Getting the spins or seeing stars when you stand up can be scary. But can it actually signal something serious?
Most of the time, feeling dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up isn’t something to worry about, says Christopher Gibbons, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.
The dizziness occurs because of a transient drop in blood pressure. When you stand up quickly, a gravitational force pulls blood toward your feet.
In order to compensate, your nervous system kicks into overdrive, increasing your heart rate and tightening up your blood vessels to try to maintain your BP, says Dr. Gibbons.
If your body returns your BP to normal quickly enough, you won’t feel faint.
But if your blood vessels stay too relaxed, the process becomes delayed. As a result, low blood flow to the brain causes you to feel dizzy and lightheaded for a few seconds.
You’re more likely to experience this if your blood pressure runs naturally low or if you take BP medications that relax your blood vessels.
Other things that may cause it: lying down for a long time or being dehydrated.
That’s why it’s common to feel dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up while you’re exercising, or after you stagger out of bed when you’re sick with the flu, says Dr. Gibbons.
Usually the dizziness only lasts for a few seconds before it subsides. That’s totally normal and nothing to worry about.
But if you notice yourself getting dizzier the longer you stand, you may have a more serious problem.
“This would suggest that the blood pressure has dropped and is not recovering,” says Dr. Gibbons.
A drop in systolic blood pressure—the top number in a BP reading—of at least 20 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) after standing for 3 minutes counts as a medical condition called orthostatic hypotension. This affects mainly the elderly, though an estimated 5 percent of people under 50 suffer from it, too.
And it’s something you want to get checked out right away: People with orthostatic hypotension were significantly more likely to die over a 10-year follow up than those without the condition, a recent study from Dr. Gibbons found.
Orthostatic hypotension can lead to fainting and falls, which can cause injury, but the condition also signals that something in your body isn’t working properly, says Dr. Gibbons.
It may point to diseases like diabetes or Parkinson’s, both of which can damage your nerves and disrupt your body’s blood pressure regulation.
So if you notice you always feel dizzy when you get up—or that it gets worse the longer you stand—make an appointment with your doctor.
He or she can measure your BP to check for orthostatic hypotension. It may be a simple fix like changing the medications you’re currently taking, or your doctor may run further tests to find out if there’s a larger underlying cause.