Lightheadedness During Pregnancy – A Common Problem

Lightheadedness pregnancy

It’s not unusual to feel lightheaded or dizzy during pregnancy, since your body undergoes some dramatic changes to accommodate your growing baby. An occasional bout of lightheadedness or dizziness if nothing to worry about but if dizziness persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should notify your doctor. There are a few reasons that you might feel lightheaded:

Hormones and low blood pressure

During pregnancy rising levels of hormones cause your blood vessels to dilate so that you can more efficiently deliver blood to your growing baby. These circulatory changes begin to lower your blood pressure early on in the pregnancy and are at their lowest around the middle of your second trimester. Blood pressure that falls under 120 over 80 can leave you feeling faint. Your blood pressure begins to rise later in the pregnancy and will usually return to pre-pregnancy levels after your baby is born. Very low blood pressure has been associated with preterm birth. If you also experience blurred vision, difficulty concentrating or unusual thirst, talk to your doctor.

Increased insulin production

Lightheadedness can also be s symptom of gestational diabetes. Pregnancy hormones bump up insulin production, which can lead to higher blood glucose levels and insulin resistance in some women. Women who have a family history of diabetes or who are obese are more likely to develop gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes which only happens during pregnancy, but it can also happen to women without preexisting conditions. Gestational diabetes can heighten the risk of pregnancy complications. Fortunately, it is treatable with a healthy diet, exercise and medication. If you experience dizziness, along with anxiety, shaking, sweating, or blurred vision, ask your doctor to test you for diabetes. Blood sugar levels usually returns to normal after delivery.

Inadequate nutrition and low blood sugar

The hormones estrogen and HCG rise during the first trimester of pregnancy causing the  nausea and vomiting known as morning sickness. Some women experience an extreme form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum that can last longer than the first trimester. Ongoing nausea can result in too many skipped meals, which in turn can lower blood sugar and leave you feeling lightheaded, If nausea prevents you from eating regular meals, try eating small snacks several times a day. Pack healthy snacks  so you can eat when you feel less nauseous.

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which the blood is deficient in red blood cells or hemoglobin. This can cause problems during pregnancy, including not being able to produce enough blood for the developing baby. That’s why it’s important to take prenatal vitamins with iron and eat foods rich in iron. Dizziness can be a symptom of anemia.

Excessive heat

Excessive heat can lead to dehydration, which in turn can make a mother-to-be feel dizzy.  It’s easy for pregnant women to become dehydrated as they need extra fluids to produce blood, to form the placenta, which provides nutrients to the baby, and form the amniotic sac. It’s important to drink plenty of water. Aim for 48 to 64 ounces of water daily. Drink more if you are active or have to spend time in the heat.

Pressure on your blood vessels

During the second trimester, the expanding uterus can put pressure on blood vessels and that can lead to dizziness. When you lie on your back, the weight of your baby can press on your vena cava, which carries blood to your heart. That’s why it’s recommended that pregnant women sleep on their side.

Hypertension

High blood pressure during pregnancy, which is defined as over 140 over 90, is not always dangerous, but it needs to be carefully monitored since it can lead to preeclampsia, which can cause serious even fatal complications. Some women experience gestational hypertension—or high blood pressure at about 20 weeks of pregnancy— even if they never had high blood pressure before. Hypertension symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, feeling faint and having cold clammy skin. If you experience any of these other symptoms talk to your doctor.

There are a few steps you can take to make pregnancy-related dizziness less likely.

  • When sitting or lying down, be sure to get up slowly. This is especially important if you are getting up from a hot bath.
  • Eat small meals frequently during the day so that your blood sugar does not drop. Make sure there’s some protein in your meal or snack.
  • Take prenatal vitamins with iron to prevent anemia. Eat foods rich in iron.
  • Don’t take very hot baths or showers
  • Don’t lie on your back once you reach the second trimester. Pregnancy pillows can make it more comfortable to lie on your side.

If you feel like you are going to faint, don’t drive, exercise or handle machinery. Sit or lie down. Raise your feet. Take deep breaths.

Although  dizziness is common during pregnancy, there are times when you may want to notify your doctor. By itself dizziness is rarely serious but when accompanied by other symptoms, it may indicate a more serious condition.

  • Always call your doctor if you have vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain. If it happens during your first trimester, you could be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Contact your doctor if dizziness persists or is accompanied by blurred vision, shaking, sweating, cold clammy skin, confusion or headaches.
Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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