Faintness and dizziness

Feeling a little faint? It's common for pregnant women to experience light-headedness, faintness or dizziness. These sensations can result from circulatory changes during pregnancy, such as decreased blood flow to your upper body because of the pressure of your uterus on the blood vessels in your back and pelvis. You're particularly susceptible to this early in the second trimester, when your blood vessels have dilated in response to pregnancy hormones but your blood volume hasn't yet expanded to fill them.

Dizziness or faintness may also occur during hot weather or when you're taking a hot bath or shower. When you're overheated, the blood vessels in your skin dilate, temporarily reducing the amount of blood returning to your heart.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), common in early pregnancy, also can cause dizziness, as can having too few red blood cells (anemia). Finally, stress, fatigue and hunger can make you feel dizzy or faint. Less commonly, the flu, diabetes, high blood pressure or a thyroid disorder may contribute to faintness or dizziness.

■ Prevention and self-care for faintness and dizziness

To prevent faintness and dizziness, follow these suggestions:

• Move slowly as you get up from lying or sitting down, and change positions slowly.

• Move or walk at a slower pace. Take frequent rest breaks.

• Avoid standing for long periods of time.

• Avoid lying flat on your back. Instead, lie on your side, with a pillow tucked under your hip.

• Avoid getting overheated. Stay away from warm, crowded areas. Dress in layers. Make sure your bath or shower isn't too hot. Leave the door or window open to keep the room from getting too hot.

• Eat several small meals or snacks each day instead of three large meals. Munch on snacks such as dried or fresh fruits, whole-wheat bread, crackers or low-fat yogurt.

• Stay physically active to help with your lower body circulation. Good activities include walking, water aerobics and prenatal yoga.

• Drink plenty of fluids, particularly early in the day. Sports drinks may be most effective.

• Eat foods that are rich in iron, such as beans, red meat, green leafy vegetables and dried fruits.

■ When to seek medical help for faintness and dizziness

It's always a good idea to tell your health care provider if you've been feeling faint or dizzy.

If faintness or dizziness is severe and occurs with abdominal pain or vaginal bleeding, it may be a sign of ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg attaches outside the uterus, or another serious complication. Always report significant vaginal bleeding to your health care provider.

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