A head rush is when an individual becomes momentarily disoriented upon standing up quickly. In minor cases, symptoms such as slight dizziness, dimming vision, or some tingling in the area of the head and neck may occur. More advanced cases can have more severe symptoms, however, such as fainting or a significant decrease in blood pressure. While it is not unusual for a healthy individual to occasionally experience a head rush after sitting or lying down for an extended period of time, recurring episodes, or occurrences that take place without standing up quickly, may indicate a more serious condition. Technically, the condition is known as orthostatic hypotension.
What Happens Physiologically
During a head rush, a person's blood pressure drops suddenly and the body is not able to correct it quickly enough. Usually, the heart speeds up and blood vessels contract when blood pressure falls; both of these involuntary actions work to increase the pressure. When this process is interrupted, however, the brain can't get enough blood, so the person feels dizzy or light-headed.
Standing Up too Quickly
When a person changes position suddenly, such as from a reclining or sitting position to standing up, the blood in the head is pulled by gravity into the feet and legs. This abrupt change in blood flow can make the person's blood pressure fall briefly before the body has time to counteract it. In most situations, this adjustment takes only a few seconds, but during that time, it is possible to experience a sense of developing a headache, feel slightly dizzy, or even notice that the vision becomes somewhat grainy. Losing consciousness very briefly is also possible.
Another common situation known to bring on this condition is overheating the body. Exercising in hot humid conditions, or even just taking a very hot shower or sitting in a sauna too long, can bring on a head rush in some people. In this case, many report feeling faint when stepping out of the hot shower or bath into a cooler room. The sudden drop in temperature seems to make it worse.
Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance
Having a head rush is a common symptom of dehydration, and someone who begins experiencing them frequently should consider whether he or she is drinking enough water. Some conditions, like diabetes, can cause a person to become dehydrated more quickly, and make them more vulnerable to hypotension. Similarly, an electrolyte imbalance may also be a factor, particularly for athletes and others who exercise heavily; an exercise drink may help in this situation.
Medications and other Drugs
Taking some prescription and non-prescription drugs can also cause head rushes. People taking diuretics, blood pressure medication, and some other drugs are more vulnerable to this condition. Smoking marijuana or taking certain other mind-altering drugs will sometimes lead to this type of feeling as well.
Managing a Head Rush
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to deal with head rushes. Many of the symptoms will lose intensity if the individual does not move suddenly from sitting or reclining to a standing position. By taking a little more time to raise the body to a standing position, there is less chance for the blood pressure to drop. Perhaps even more importantly, recognizing the onset of a head rush and immediately sitting down can help prevent a person from falling and possibly injuring himself.
When to See a Medical Professional
If the symptoms seem to become worse or more frequent over time, or if they begin to last for longer periods, this may indicate an underlying medical condition. Experiencing a total loss of consciousness is another sign that it is time to seek help. Low blood pressure can be a sign of a number of different nervous system disorders, like multiple system atrophy or Parkinson's disease, or a heart problem. Low blood pressure may complicate or worsen the condition, so should be investigated so any other causes can be treated early.
Medication can sometimes be used to prevent frequent head rushes when it's not possible to solve any underlying cause immediately. Fludrocortisone and beta blockers have been used with some degree of success, while anti-anxiety drugs, such as various types of benzodiazepines, may also help with the problem. Even some antidepressant medications that impact the process of serotonin reuptake in the brain may prove useful in managing head rushes. A qualified medical professional can assess the situation and determine the most effective mode of treatment.
What Is a Head Rush From Vaping?
Head rush from vaping occurs when you introduce a new nicotine delivery method. It could also be due to nicotine poisoning. The head rush that arises from a new delivery method comes from the nicotine in e-liquids. Vaping carries nicotine into your body more abruptly than with normal cigarettes. When you vape, nicotine is delivered directly to your lungs in the form of vapor, hence the head rush.
Nicotine is a stimulant that affects the nervous system. When you consume nicotine, changes occur in the balance of neurochemicals in the brain, and this causes a head rush. In extreme cases, vaping could set off an allergy to an ingredient in the vapor.
Nicotine poisoning occurs when your body receives an overdose of nicotine. The prevalent poisoning symptoms are:
- Increased heart rate
- Pale skin
With proper treatment, you can recover completely, but severe cases can have far-reaching consequences.
What Are the Risk Factors for Head Rush?
Head rush is not specific to a given category of people because anyone can get a head rush. Some factors increase your chances of a head rush. These factors are discussed below.
Pregnancy is associated with various hormonal changes in the body. For example, a hormonal imbalance can relax your blood vessels and cause your blood pressure to lower. As a result, your head becomes light, and you get episodes of head rushes. Lightheadedness is more common within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The older you become, the less efficient your body reflexes become. When the reflexes that stabilize your blood pressure become less efficient, your blood pressure becomes reduced. As a result, you experience more episodes of head rush.
Exposure To Heat
If you stay in a hot environment for a long time, you become dehydrated. As a result, your blood volume decreases, and your blood pressure lowers. As a result, you get symptoms of head rush like dizziness, weakness, and fatigue.
Low blood pressure increases your risk for head rush. Medicinal drugs that lower your blood pressure can cause a head rush. Common categories of such medication include nitrates, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.
Does Head Rush Cause Brain Damage?
Researchers from the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands monitored 6,000 people for approximately 15 years. The study revealed that older adults who experience frequent head rushes are 15% more likely to get all types of dementia later in life. Types of dementia include Parkinson's dementia, vascular dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.
If blood flow to your head is reduced every time you stand up, your brain does not get enough oxygen. As a result, your brain cells become damaged over time, and you suffer brain damage. If you experience frequent episodes of head rush when you stand, especially as you get older, you should consult your general practitioner for advice.
The risks found in the research are minor compared to other risk factors for dementia. Nonetheless, head rush adds to a complex picture of how changes in blood pressure throughout your life affect your brain. The good news is that a dizzy spell does not mean you will undoubtedly get dementia. Take all the preventive measures against dementia to maintain a healthy brain as you age.
Can Persistent Head Rush Cause Complications?
If you experience frequent episodes of head rush, you could get one or more of the complications discussed below.
If you have orthostatic hypertension, you are at a higher risk of heart failure than people who do not get head rushes. Frequent, sudden drops in your blood pressure reduce your heart's ability to pump with enough force. Common cardiovascular conditions associated with head rush include:
- Heart failure
- Chest pain
- Heart rhythm problems
Orthostatic hypertension increases the risk of falls. This is especially common in nursing homes. The direct relationship between a head rush and a fall is not clear. The correlation arises from low blood pressure and hypersensitive medication, which accelerates incidents of falls.
Orthostatic hypotension increases the risk of stroke by 36%, with a significant relationship observed among people below the age of 65. A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is reduced or interrupted. Since a head rush reduces the oxygen that reaches your brain cells, you become more predisposed to stroke.
Head rush is preventable and manageable if you take the necessary precautions. But, if you notice you experience frequent episodes, don't hesitate to consult your general practitioner. Early diagnosis and treatment are your first line of defense against severe complications due to head rush.