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Workout Leaving You Lightheaded? [The side effect of exercise no one talks about]

Posted Oct 24 2010 6:30pm

Gym Buddy Allison and I share many similarities: young children, a deep love of garage sales and thrift stores, and the same dark hair/light skin that always makes people ask us if we are sisters. Or just confuse one of us for the other. (Hint: she's the taller one with whiter teeth and shiny hair - basically what would happen if the Old Spice Guy knocked up the Pantene lady.) Recently we discovered we also share something else, albeit a mite more disconcerting than our preoccupation with our body fat percentage: We faint.

That's right, a condition normally associated with overly sensitive (or just overly corsetted) 19th-century rich ladies is felling super healthy Gym Buddies left and right. And it's not just fainting but general light-headedness, dizziness and blacked out vision. Before anyone wigs out, it's not as scary as it sounds, it only happens under certain circumstances and... it's perfectly normal . Um, what?

Called Orthostatic Hypotension , it's a seldom talked about side effect of exercise. While one of the known (great) side effects of exercise is lowered blood pressure, this can turn into a bit of a problem in situations that further lower your blood pressure such as suddenly stopping a vigorous exercise or suddenly changing positions. (I think I'm suddenly seeing a pattern!) Avid exercisers that already have low blood pressure are at particular risk for this. As explains ,

"Exercise can cause sudden changes in blood pressure. A change of 20 points in your blood pressure can cause you dizziness or even fainting. This happens because for that moment the brain isn't getting enough blood. Athletes and those who exercise regularly tend to have lower blood pressure and slower heart rate. So a sudden drop of 20 points could easily put an athlete into the realm of low blood pressure."
I found this out the hard way the other day while kneeling on my floor sorting ultra-adorable girly baby clothes for the Jelly Bean. (She has a silver tulle tutu! With silver patent-leather mary janes! Squeee!) I stood up to hang a dress in her closet and all of a sudden I'm hot, nauseated and my vision is all black. And next thing I know I'm slumped against the closet door on the floor with Jelly Bean staring at me with the cutest bewildered expression on her little squishy face.

This is not the first time I have experienced something like this. My normal blood pressure is usually around 85 over 60 although it's been measured lower and my resting heart rate is about 47 beats per minute. Because of this, my predilection to swoon has become a joke with my husband as I've fainted at least twice with each pregnancy. (Pregnancy is another condition that lowers your blood pressure.) But non-preggo fainting is pretty rare for me. More commonly I'm just dizzy, light-headed, nauseated and have spotty vision for a few seconds. It's remedied by remembering to stand up slowly and steadying myself with a wall or chair for a few seconds until the feeling passes. Except for the rare occasion when I actually hit the floor, these spells are barely noticeable and are not very bothersome to me.

The gym, however, amplifies these - both in intensity and in danger. For instance after doing Tabata sprints around the track with Allison one day, we both reeled to the floor in a strange, slow fall. It seems to have been a combination of working so hard and then stopping so suddenly (we were not going to run even one extra step at that level of exertion, much less take a cool-down lap!) that brought both of us momentarily insensate. Similar to that, while doing my long runs I'm fine but the second I stop running (which of course I do immediately because I'm a "sprint to the finish line" kind of girl) I usually have to sit down for a few seconds on the end of my treadmill and wait for my vision to clear before I can walk to the paper towel dispenser and spritz my 'mill down with ineffective-yet-mandatory cleaning spray.

So what about you - have you ever fainted? Locked your knees during your choir concert? Forgotten to drink water during gym class in a heat wave? Do you get dizzy etc. upon changing positions or stopping intense exercise? Any other good side effects of healthy living that end up bad?
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