Healthy Pilot #2: Feeling Dizzy?

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Itís item 18b on the Basic Med Section 2 exam checklist. So if youíve bouts of lightheadedness lately, it would be wise to consult a doctor to rule out certain potential problems.

Maybe you first sensed it when you got up out of a chair: A lightheadedness or dizzy spell that made you reach out to hold onto something. A more serious incident of dizziness may have caused a fall.

For the accomplished pilot, this sort of situation is worrying, especially if it happens at the FAF inbound while you’re still in the clag.

If you have experienced lightheadedness lately, the first thing to do is not panic. There might be perfectly plausible, short-term cause that’s easy to correct.

According to the Avweb’s sister website University Health News, dizziness is usually caused by a condition called hypotension, a sudden drop in blood pressure. There are several potential reasons:

If you take blood-pressure-lowering medications, they can sometimes overdo their intended purpose and cause a loss of blood pressure that’s so sharp and sudden that it results in fainting. Talking to your doctor about adjusting your meds is the logical first step.

Dizziness can also be caused by an inner ear problem, low blood sugar or anemia. Again, a visit to the doctor to describe your symptoms and work out solutions is in order.

However, if your lightheadedness is accompanied by chest pain, palpitations or shortness of breath, you need to rule out coronary artery disease (CAD) or heart failure.

CAD is one of the most common forms of cardiovascular disease and takes the lives of more than 400,000 individuals in America each year. It begins when an accumulation of so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol in the arteries feeding blood to the heart. The cholesterol, or “plaque”, attaches itself to the endothelial cells on the inner walls of the artery and starts to build, ultimately narrowing the artery and causing chest pain or angina.

A fibrous cap contains the plaque, but if this cap breaks, a sudden release of cholesterol into the bloodstream can cause a heart attack with telltale jaw pain, left arm pain, shortness of breath and incapacitating weakness.

If your doctor believes you’re a candidate for CAD, you’ll want to note symptoms, including dizziness, and move aggressively to find a treatment.

Your doctor will likely prescribe a medication to lower your blood pressure, and perhaps a statin to lower your bad LDL cholesterol and your triglyceride levels. If imaging shows your CAD has progressed, he or she may order a percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), also known as stenting, of the offending artery or arteries. If there are multiple trouble spots in your coronary arteries, a revascularization using open coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) may be ordered.

Could this cascade of heart trouble have begun with a little dizziness? Maybe. The smart thing is to get it checked out well before you have to answer that pesky yes-no question on the Basic Med checklist.

What’s the best way to forestall potential heart problems?

  1. Rethink your diet. Cut back on red meat and prioritize fruits and vegetables, legumes, and fatty fish.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Get that body mass index below 27. Measure it by multiplying your weight in pounds times 703. Divide that number by your height in inches squared. For instance, if you weigh 223 pounds and you are 5’ 11” tall, the formula looks like this: 223x703/(71x71) or 31.† That BMI is four points over where it should be, and you know who you are… (ahem).
  3. Get plenty of exercise. The federal government suggests 150 minutes a week of strenuous exercise, but anything is better than nothing. If you haven’t been particularly active, start with a walking program; click here to read about “The Many Benefits of Walking.”
  4. Quit smoking. You should have done this in your 20s but better late than never.
  5. Manage stress. If you figure out how to do that, let us know. For now, the article linked here may help.

Next up in the Healthy Pilot series: Eye and Vision Trouble