Dizziness in pregnancy is common, due to the cardiovascular changes you experience during pregnancy, but not to worry – there are tactics that may help. That includes lying down as soon as you feel dizzy, taking warm baths instead of hot ones, and not standing up too fast. And just watch out for other symptoms that can accompany dizziness and warrant a prompt a call to your doctor, including shortness of breath, blurred vision, and impaired speech.
Why am I experiencing dizziness in pregnancy?
You might occasionally feel lightheaded or dizzy when you're pregnant because your cardiovascular system undergoes dramatic changes: Your heart rate goes up, your heart pumps more blood per minute, and the amount of blood in your body increases by 30 to 50 percent.
In most pregnancies, the blood vessels dilate and blood pressure gradually drops, reaching the lowest point in mid-pregnancy. It then begins to go back up, returning to its regular level by the end of pregnancy. In the second and third trimesters, a growing uterus also puts pressure on veins and slows circulation to the lower half of your body.
Your cardiovascular and nervous systems can usually adjust to these changes and maintain adequate blood flow to your brain. But sometimes they don't adapt quickly enough, which can leave you feeling lightheaded or dizzy, or even make you faint.
You're also more likely to feel dizzy if you have anemia, don't eat or drink enough, overdo it when you exercise, or get overheated.
What's the difference between feeling lightheaded and dizzy?
Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they're distinct from each other. Lightheadedness happens when you feel faint, and your body might seem heavy while your head feels too light. Dizziness, which is also called vertigo, makes you feel like your surroundings are moving and that can often lead to nausea.
With vertigo in pregnancy, you may feel off balance or like you're spinning or tilting. This might also be accompanied by headaches or vision issues.
Dizziness in early pregnancy: Will it just occur in the first trimester?
Feeling lightheaded or dizzy during early pregnancy is not as common as changes like sore breasts, morning sickness, fatigue, and frequent urination. But it's still considered normal because of increasing blood volume along with hormonal changes.
Those hormone shifts cause your blood vessels to relax and widen, which bring more blood to your baby, but slow how much flows back to you. That prompts a dip in blood pressure that can cause dizziness. Low blood sugar levels may also be a culprit, because your body is trying to regulate those levels in the first trimester.
Although dizziness can be more acute in the first trimester and less frequent in your second trimester, it can also occur later in pregnancy, especially if you lie on your back. That's because the weight of the baby is pressing on your vena cava, the large vein carrying blood to your heart from your lower body.
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Can certain health conditions cause dizziness in pregnancy?
You can have vertigo in pregnancy, but other less common causes of dizziness during pregnancy may not be as easy to spot. Those can include:
Vasovagal syncope: Some people get dizzy when they strain to cough, pee, or have a bowel movement. These actions can prompt blood pressure and heart rate to fall, leading to dizziness and fainting. (Vasovagal means your vagus nerve is affecting your circulatory system; syncope means fainting.) Dehydration, anxiety, and pain can also be triggers.
Pregnant women are more prone to vasovagal syncope. Besides lightheadedness, it's often preceded by warning signs such as a feeling of warmth, paleness, sweating, nausea, yawning, and hyperventilation. Pay attention to these symptoms and lie down immediately to try to keep yourself from fainting.
Anemia: If you're anemic, you don't have as many red blood cells to carry oxygen to your brain and other organs, which can make you feel lightheaded. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, so be sure to eat an iron-rich diet and take a prenatal vitamin with iron, especially in your second and third trimesters. If you're anemic, your provider may prescribe a separate iron supplement as well.
Anxiety: When you feel anxious, you may hyperventilate and get lightheaded. See our article on managing stress and anxiety during pregnancy for advice on reducing stress. If nothing seems to help, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to a therapist for help figuring out what you need to do to feel better.
What can I do if I'm experiencing dizziness or lightheadedness in pregnancy?
Lie down as soon as you start to feel dizzy. Lying on your side maximizes blood flow to your body and brain, which may keep you from fainting and could relieve lightheadedness altogether.
If you're someplace where you can't lie down, then sit down so you don't fall. Try to put your head between your knees. (Of course, you may no longer be able to do this if you're very pregnant.)
If you're doing anything that might put you or others at risk for injury, such as driving, pull over and stop right away.
Other strategies include taking deep breaths, opening windows or going outside so you get fresh air, and loosening tight clothing.
Can I prevent dizziness in pregnancy?
You can take steps to minimize the risk of dizziness during pregnancy. Here are some common causes of lightheadedness during pregnancy as well as the precautions you can take:
Don't stand up too fast. When you sit, blood pools in your feet and lower legs. If your body isn't able to adjust when you stand up, not enough blood returns to your heart from your legs. As a result, your blood pressure drops quickly, which can leave you feeling faint.
To prevent this, avoid springing up from your chair or bed. When you're lying down, sit up slowly and stay seated for a few minutes with your legs dangling over the side of the bed or couch. Then slowly rise from sitting to standing.
Your blood may also pool in your feet and legs when you stand in one place for a long time. If you're in a situation where you can't move around, try shaking your legs to promote circulation.
Wearing support stockings can also help circulation in the lower half of your body.
Don't lie on your back. In your second and third trimesters, your growing uterus can slow the circulation in your legs by compressing the large vein (inferior vena cava) that returns blood from the lower half of the body to the heart and the pelvic veins. Lying flat on your back can make this problem worse.
About eight percent of pregnant women in their second or third trimester develop a condition called supine hypotensive syndrome. If you have this condition, it means that when you lie on your back, your heart pumps less blood and your blood pressure drops, so you may feel anxious, lightheaded, and nauseated until you shift position.
To prevent this problem, lie on your side instead of flat on your back. A pillow placed behind you or under your hip can help you stay on your side (or at least tilted enough to keep your uterus from compressing the vena cava).
Eat and drink regularly. When you don't eat enough, you can end up with low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can make you feel dizzy or faint. This can happen much more easily when you're pregnant. Keep your blood sugar from getting too low by eating small meals frequently during the day instead of three large ones. Carry healthy snacks to eat when you get hungry on the go.
Dehydration can have a similar effect, so stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water. The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink about 10 8-ounce cups of water or other beverages each day. You may need even more if you're exercising or it's hot. (If your urine is dark yellow or cloudy, you're not drinking enough.)
Avoid overheating. Spending time in a hot room or taking a hot bath or shower can make your blood vessels dilate, lowering your blood pressure and making you feel woozy.
If you feel dizzy when you get too hot, avoid stuffy, crowded places and dress in layers so you can shed clothes as necessary. Take warm showers or baths instead of hot ones, and try to keep the bathroom cool.
Don't overdo it when you exercise. Exercise can sometimes cause you to hyperventilate and feel faint. Although exercise can help your circulation, be careful not to overdo it. Take it easy, and stop if you feel tired or unwell.
When should I call my healthcare provider about dizziness during pregnancy?
Feeling a little lightheaded on occasion from heat, hunger, or getting up too fast is generally not cause for alarm. But if you have persistent lightheadedness, frequent bouts of dizziness, or any other concerns, talk with your provider.
Also call your provider if you have any of these symptoms you shouldn't ignore:
- Severe headaches
- Blurred vision
- Impaired speech
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Vaginal bleeding
Also, get immediate medical help if you faint, or if you're dizzy following a head injury. In early pregnancy, call 911 if you have dizziness with abdominal pain and a racing pulse. This could indicate that you could have a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which is a medical emergency.
- Twelve steps to a healthy pregnancy
- The basics of good sleep during pregnancy
- Eating well during pregnancy