Feeling Lightheaded

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: December 2019

Sometimes when you stand up too quickly, you may experience a feeling of lightheadedness. It may feel as if you might faint or pass out, like a bit of dizziness. The medical term for this is “presyncope,” which is pronounced pree-sink-oh-pee.1 It refers to feeling faint without actually passing out.

Sometimes people experiencing a migraine attack can feel lightheaded or dizzy. Because migraine impacts parts of the body beyond the head, a range of symptoms, including feeling lightheaded or dizzy can occur.

Lightheadedness, dizziness, vertigo, and migraine

For people with migraine disease, a lightheaded feeling is a common symptom. It often comes with vertigo or dizziness. Many people from migraine use the words ‘dizziness’ and ‘lightheadedness’ interchangeably, because the symptoms are so similar.

It is estimated that between 30 percent and 50 percent of people living with migraine will at times feel dizzy or off-balance during a migraine attack.2 This is often called vestibular migraine or migraine-associated vertigo.2

Vertigo describes the sensation of spinning or moving when you are motionless.2 Up to 1 in 3 people with migraine also report vertigo.2 Lightheadedness is different. It is a feeling of faintness or like you’re floating, without the spinning sensation.

What causes lightheadedness, dizziness, or vertigo with migraine?

Dizziness, lightheadedness, and vertigo can occur for a number of reasons, such as dehydration, sinus infection or stroke. That is why it is important to rule out any other causes of this symptom. Talk with your doctor about when the lightheadedness occurs, and if it comes with a migraine attack.

Triggers of dizziness are often the same as those that trigger a migraine attack, such as:

Dizziness, lightheadedness, and vertigo may occur at different stages of the migraine. Some people talk about being lightheaded after a migraine, while others experience the symptoms before or during the attack.

How is lightheadedness in migraine treated?

Treatment of migraine-related dizziness or lightheadedness is usually achieved by treating or preventing the migraine itself.1 Sometimes other drugs like blood pressure or antiseizure medicines may treat vestibular migraine. However, if you only experience lightheadedness, these drugs may not be appropriate.

It may help to lie down or sit while experiencing migraine-related lightheadedness. Some people report that staying hydrated and eating or drinking something sugary helps. Talk with your doctor about possible strategies to combat any dizziness associated with your migraine attacks.

Tracking your migraine symptoms

Keeping a record of your migraine symptoms may help you figure out patterns and triggers to your attacks. It may be helpful to record such things as:

  • When and where your pain or symptoms start
  • Whether the pain spreads to your entire head or neck
  • How well and how quickly acute treatment helps reduce the pain or other symptoms
  • How long your pain or symptoms last
  • Whether you experience other symptoms such as vision changes, nausea, or light sensitivity

Community experiences of lightheadedness

Migraine.com advocates often share their experiences dealing with symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, and vertigo. Some have talked about how dizziness has become a new symptom as their migraine has evolved over time. Others have shared that even when you stay informed about symptoms and triggers, it can be scary to suddenly experience a new symptom, like vertigo, for the first time. Advocates talk about navigating home and work with vestibular migraine and overcoming the embarrassment and stigma of dizziness as a migraine symptom.

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