According to scientists, dizzy spells after standing may be a warning sign of neurological disease, and may be linked to a heightened risk of premature death.
Some people experience dizziness within 3 minutes of standing up, as a result of a sudden drop in blood pressure levels. The condition is called orthostatic hypotension (OH), but some other people suffer from delayed orthostatic hypotension, which takes place more than 3 minutes after standing.
Patients with delayed OH may stand up and feel well enough, but progressively get more faint and experience lightheadedness, until they need to sit down. For instance, they may have vertigo while standing in line at the supermarket or at a trading desk.
Overall, such symptoms may indicate that “the nervous system is falling and isn’t maintaining blood pressure when you’re standing”, explained Dr. Christopher Gibbons, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and study lead author.
The paper, published on September 23 in the Neurology journal, analyzed medical records belonging to 230 elderly people, who had undergone nervous system tests in 2002 and 2003. Data was collected, detailing the patients’ blood pressure and heart rate. It was reported that 42 of them had OH, while 48 others had delayed OH.
In a 10-year follow-up, 165 of these patients were available for further testing. It was established that those who had been diagnosed with delayed OH had a mortality rate of 29%. In addition, 54% of those with delayed OH were now affected by dizziness immediately after standing, having developed the classic form of OH.
Even more worryingly, 64% of those who suffered from full-blown OH had died. In addition, 35% of the OH patients had developed Parkinson’s, dementia or other degenerative brain diseases. In comparison, just 9% of the patients who had been healthy had died during this time.
Based on these findings, experts concluded that delayed OH is a milder, earlier form of the full-fledged condition, that progresses in time and “carries a similar poor prognosis”.
However, researchers claim that the population shouldn’t be alarmed by this study. It may be that vertigo is caused by other factors, excluding neurological disease. For instance, dizzy spells occur among those who suffer from dehydration, who take blood pressure drugs, or who have diabetes or inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s disease.
If such a contributing condition has been identified, patients shouldn’t associate their vertigo with a heightened risk of mortality. Moreover, experts clarify that the study’s findings shouldn’t be understood as a clear cause-and-effect relationship between OH and early death, but more like a possible connection between the two.
Having such symptoms should simply put people on guard that they may have a nervous system problem that requires diagnosis and medical treatment. Normally, OH becomes more prevalent as people age: between 5 and 10% of people over the age of 60 are affected by this condition.
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