What is lightheadedness?

Jump to

Lightheadedness or faintness: Overview

Lightheadedness is a feeling that you are about to faint or "pass out." You do not feel as if you or your surroundings are moving. It is different from vertigo, which is the feeling that you or things around you are spinning or tilting.

Lightheadedness usually goes away or gets better when you lie down. If lightheadedness gets worse, it can lead to a fainting spell.

It is common to feel lightheaded from time to time. It may be caused by many things. These include allergies, dehydration, illness, and medicines. Lightheadedness usually is not caused by a serious problem. It often is caused by a short-lasting drop in blood pressure and blood flow to your head that occurs when you get up too quickly from a seated or lying position.


Lightheadedness makes a person feel like they are about to faint or pass out. It is caused by a momentary drop in blood pressure and blood flow to the head.

Nausea or vomiting sometimes accompanies lightheadedness. Symptoms usually improve or go away after lying down.

It is common to feel lightheaded occasionally. Lightheadedness often occurs when a person gets up too quickly from a seated or lying position (orthostatic hypotension).

Unlike vertigo, lightheadedness does not produce a sensation of movement. Vertigo causes a spinning or whirling sensation that may lead to nausea or vomiting, loss of balance, trouble walking or standing, and falling.

How can you care for lightheadedness or faintness?

  • Lie down for 1 or 2 minutes when you feel lightheaded. After lying down, sit up slowly and remain sitting for 1 to 2 minutes before slowly standing up.
  • Avoid movements, positions, or activities that have made you lightheaded in the past.
  • Get plenty of rest, especially if you have a cold or flu, which can cause lightheadedness.
  • Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a fever or have been sweating.
  • Do not drive or put yourself and others in danger while you feel lightheaded.

Lightheadedness or faintness: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your lightheadedness gets worse or does not get better with home care.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.