FAQ: Why Does My Loved One Get Dizzy When She Stands Up?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Why does my loved one get dizzy when she stands up?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

She may have a condition known as orthostatic hypotension. This refers to a fall in blood pressure associated with standing up or otherwise changing position. During this time, reduced blood flow to the brain can cause dizziness, weakness, vision changes, or even passing out.

Studies have found that about 20 percent of adults ages 65 and older experience these changes in blood pressure (technically called "postural" or "orthostatic" changes). This happens because standing causes one's blood to temporarily pool in the legs. In younger, healthier people, the body almost instantly tightens blood vessels and makes other adjustments, so that the brain doesn't usually experience much drop in blood supply. However, this system tends to wear down and get slower with age. In an older adult, it can take longer for the blood vessels to adjust to a standing position. Although many people don't actually notice any dizziness or other symptoms, others may fall or feel off-balance.

Certain medications may cause, or worsen, orthostatic blood pressure changes. These include medications for high blood pressure or heart conditions, certain antidepressants, and some medicines for enlarged prostate.

Orthostatic hypotension can also be associated with dehydration, other acute illnesses, and some chronic diseases such as Parkinson's disease.