Dizziness—a deficit in spatial perception that leaves people feeling lightheaded, unbalanced or disoriented—is one of the most common side effects of prescription drugs. Some of the most popular medications, including those that control high blood pressure or alter the neurochemistry of the brain, can intensify or cause dizziness in up to 30 percent of patients who take them, experts estimate.
“As we age, we are already dealing with changes to our physiology and our brain that make us more prone to dizziness,” says Ann Tucker Gleason, director of the Vestibular and Balance Center at the University of Virginia. “To add to this, many of us also take drugs that significantly exacerbate dizziness and make us more likely to injure ourselves falling.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of accidental injury and death in people older than 65.
Still, many people remain uninformed of the dangers of dizziness or unaware that one or more of their prescription drugs may leave them off-balance. Experts estimate that dizziness affects up to 30 percent of the general population, most frequently caused by disorders of the inner ear or vestibular system but also caused by conditions or medications that af-fect our vision, brain function or nervous system.
“Dizziness, especially lightheadedness, is not only a global problem but also a near epidemic in the geriatric population, making it a serious health concern,” says Christopher Zalewski, a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Below are the most common drugs that can cause dizziness and advice about how to treat it.
If you experience dizziness, the best thing you can do is consult your doctor. If a medication is to blame, your doctor may be able to lower the dose or switch you to a different drug. If the problem has a different origin or your medication cannot be altered, many other treatment options exist:
Exercise. Experts have developed several exercise regimens that can restore balance for some people. So-called vestibular rehabilitation encompasses exercises for the eye and head that help to retrain the brain to cope with the skewed signals coming from the inner ear. Canalith repositioning procedure, which also involves performing a sequence of head movements, shifts the contents of the inner ear to ease some instances of vertigo. Consult a doctor before attempting these exercises. Maintaining general fitness and doing exercises that strengthen balance, such as tai chi, may improve dizziness. Although the evidence is limited, playing Wii Fit on a Nintendo Wii could be a fun way to enhance your balance.
Change surroundings. Determine where around your home or workplace you may be most prone to falls and make adjustments. For instance, wear secure footwear to prevent falling on wet or slippery surfaces, improve lighting, and put carpet or additional railings on stairs.
Modify your diet. Eating less sodium may reduce dizziness, as may cutting back on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.
Try an antidizziness drug. If all else fails, your doctor may prescribe medication such as an antiemetic that suppresses mixed signals from the inner ear and reduces motion sickness. Yet many drugs used to combat dizziness come with problems of their own, such as unpleasant side effects. Ironically, some of them can even increase dizziness.