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Dizzy when you stand up? A few simple leg moves can help, study suggests

If you feel dizzy and lightheaded when you stand up, a simple and easy-to-perform leg maneuver may eliminate those annoying symptoms, a new study suggests.

Researchers asked a small group of young women with a history of symptoms occurring immediately after standing up to use two simple leg movements — one done after doing so and the other before — to see if these measures could diminish the symptom-causing drop in blood pressure that occurs when the large muscles of the lower leg are activated to lift the body.

The maneuvers did, indeed, result in a lessening of the blood pressure drop and also led to a reduction in the symptoms experienced by the women, according to the report published in the Heart Rhythm.

“The beauty of this is you just have to do things slightly differently,” said study co-author Dr. Satish Raj, a professor of cardiac science at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and the medical director of the Calgary Autonomic Investigation and Management Clinic. “It’s not to exercise four days a week.”

April 18, 201801:18

To see if simply moving your thighs up and down a few times before standing up could help stem the sensations of lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea, as well as a proclivity to faint upon rising, he and his colleagues recruited 22 symptomatic volunteers who experienced a drop of at least 40 mmHg in systolic blood pressure after standing up. The researchers weren’t looking for a specific gender, but women were the only ones who chose to volunteer, he said.

The condition is officially known as initial orthostatic hypotension (IOH), which by definition should last no longer than a minute. So long as the symptoms are short lived, they are unlikely to be a sign of a serious underlying disease, Raj said. 

The women were first asked to sit and then stand as they normally would. Next they performed one of the two interventions:

  • knee lifts for about 35-40 seconds before standing.
  • crossing legs and tensing them after standing.

Next, those who performed knee lifts did leg crossing and tensing and vice versa. At least 20 minutes passed between each of the three experimental rounds.

When the women stood, a researcher recorded symptoms — mental clouding, blurred vision, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, tremulousness, chest discomfort, headache and nausea — each on a 10 point intensity scale with 10 being the most intense.

Heart rate and blood pressure were continuously monitored.

Researchers then compared the women’s symptoms upon rising without intervention to those experienced with either intervention method. They found the interventions were associated with a smaller drop in blood pressure (10 mmHg) and a lessening of symptom scores: 14 in the control condition and 9 with either intervention.

While both methods worked, Raj suspects that people will choose the lifts done before standing because it’s preventative.  

The symptoms experienced by the women in this study are very common, said Dr. N.A. Mark Estes, a visiting professor of medicine and the program director for the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Some 50 to 60 percent of people will have a drop in blood pressure and feel slightly lightheaded when they stand up,” he said.

The symptoms occur mostly in younger people, especially young women.

“The blood pressure drops and then there’s not enough blood getting to the brain, which makes people feel light headed and dizzy and sometimes lose consciousness,” Estes said.

While the study is small, it does offer a couple of relatively simple solutions, he said. And most people are not likely to need anything further, he added.

Although the condition is not life-threatening by itself, “if you get dizzy, you can fall and hurt yourself,” said Dr. Hugh Calkins, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the director of the arrhythmia service at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “This is an important condition and the study brings an important message for both patients and physicians.”

Although the condition is benign in a sense, “it can be very compromising to a person’s quality of life, certainly in their ability to do tasks or their profession,” said Dr. Matthew Tomey, a cardiologist and an assistant professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

The findings should be confirmed with a larger study involving a broader demographic of volunteers, he recommended.

That said, “the intervention is so innocuous, I think it falls into the category of it won’t hurt anybody,” he said.

However, people shouldn’t treat the condition on their own, especially if symptoms start suddenly.

“I would recommend a discussion with a physician,” Tomey said. “In many cases, the conclusion will be that it is benign, but it’s difficult to dismiss out of hand alternative explanations.”