In most pregnant women, dizziness is a common but harmless symptom, occurring due to normal physiological changes related to pregnancy. The exception may be when dizziness occurs due to some complication of pregnancy, notably an ectopic pregnancy. However, pregnancy should not detract the fact that there are other unrelated causes of dizziness which need to be investigated.
What is Dizziness?
Dizziness is sometimes difficult to describe. It may be a feeling of faintness, light headedness, or a feeling that the body or the surroundings are moving or swirling. A person may feel on the verge of fainting (pre-syncope) and may actually pass out or faint (syncope). A feeling of weakness and unsteadiness which may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting.
Causes of Dizziness in Pregnancy
- Due to hormonal changes in pregnancy, the blood vessels dilate, leading to a fall in blood pressure. This is the most common cause of dizziness in early pregnancy.
- Standing up suddenly from a sitting or lying down position can prevent blood from reaching the brain immediately and cause momentary dizziness. This is known as postural or orthostatic hypotension.
- In late pregnancy, pressure of the growing uterus on the inferior vena cava (the large vein which returns blood from lower part of the body to the heart) is a probable cause.
- Severe anemia (low iron levels in the blood).
- Low blood sugar often caused by not eating frequently. It may be accompanied by hunger pangs.
- Morning sickness or nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
- Dehydration from any cause, such as excessive vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or low fluid intake.
- Stress or anxiety.
- Being in a hot or uncomfortable environment.
- Hyperventilation or deep, rapid breathing.
- Over-exertion and fatigue.
- Medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or certain heart conditions.
- Meniere’s disease.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Pressure on the cervical nerves (nerves in the neck) – refer to Pinched Cervical Nerve.
- Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency. Severe abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding in the first trimester along with dizziness and fainting in early pregnancy could point to an ectopic pregnancy. This dangerous complication of pregnancy where the fertilized ovum implants in a site outside the uterus. A history of missed period may altogether be absent in some cases. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent more serious consequences.
- Dizziness may occur as a result of excessive vaginal bleeding due to any cause. The more important of these are a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) in early pregnancy, placenta previa and abruptio placentae in the latter half of pregnancy. Abdominal pain may be an additional symptom.
Home Care of Dizziness in Pregnancy
- Avoid over-exertion during pregnancy. Take frequent naps and breaks to rest.
- Standing for a long period of time should be avoided, especially if you are suffering with swollen legs.
- Take small frequent meals if you are unable to eat proper meals due to nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (morning sickness). Avoid being on an empty stomach.
- Drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration.
- Do not stand or sit up suddenly from a lying down or sitting position.
- If you feel dizzy, sit or lie down immediately. Sitting with the head between the knees can help.
- Avoid lying down on your back for long, especially in the second half of pregnancy. Lying on the left side helps to restore blood pressure quickly.
- Wear comfortable, less-restrictive clothes during pregnancy.
- Be cautious when driving or using machinery.
When to Seek Medical Care in Dizziness during Pregnancy
- Immediate medical care must be sought if dizziness is accompanied by abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding because these are indications of more serious complications.
- Severe, persistent dizziness.
- If dizziness occurs frequently.
- Dizziness leading to fainting spells.
- Dizziness associated with other symptoms such as headache, palpitations, blurred vision, or convulsions.
Treatment of Dizziness in Pregnancy
- Correction of any definite cause of dizziness, such as anemia by taking a diet rich in iron and prenatal vitamins containing iron.
- Taking care of nausea and persistent vomiting before complications arise.
- Managing medical causes such as diabetes adequately during pregnancy.
- Specific causes such as ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, and other causes of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy merit treatment on their own account.
- Treatment of any other illness which could be the cause of dizziness in pregnancy.
Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on August 25, 2010