For many people with uteruses, a monthly menstrual cycle can be a source of discomfort and often come with a variety of symptoms.
The most common symptoms people report before and during menstruation are mood changes, cramping, fatigue and breast sensitivity. But it turns out, you can also experience symptoms like bouts of dizziness during your period.
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While brief moments of lightheadedness are usually nothing to worry about, dizzy spells during menstruation can feel unsettling and even dangerous, especially if you're driving or are home alone. They could also indicate an underlying issue that warrants a visit to the doctor.
Here, we spoke with ob-gyns to better understand what causes dizzy symptoms during your period and how to find relief.
A Note About Language
Here at LIVESTRONG.com, we believe that gender is a spectrum and try to avoid using language that implies a sex or gender binary in favor of more accurate and inclusive language. While some studies quoted in this article will include binary language such as "man" and "woman," we favor more inclusive language like "people with uteruses" or "people with prostates."
1. You Have Anemia
Blood loss happens during menstruation. In fact, most people lose about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their period, according to Somi Javaid, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and the founder and chief medical officer at HerMD.
While this amount isn't enough to cause dizziness, you can feel off balance if you have a heavier menstrual flow that results in anemia — a condition caused by a loss or lack of red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles in the body, per the Mayo Clinic.
"When you experience dizziness with heavy menstrual bleeding, oxygen is being diverted away from the brain and muscles, and dizziness is your brain's 'stop' signal, in an attempt to revert oxygen to the brain and muscles instead," Dr. Javaid says.
A quick and easy at-home solution is to stay hydrated and eat iron-rich foods like meat, soybeans, lentils, spinach and dried apricots. If that doesn’t provide relief, talk to your doctor about getting tested and treated for anemia.
“Many different treatment options are available for anemia, including medications and iron supplements,” Dr. Javaid says.
2. It's Your Response to Strong Cramps
If your most-used item during your menstrual cycle is your heating pad, you might experience dizziness from the sudden onset of painful or intense cramps. It's possible to even wake up dizzy from cramps.
This is largely due to prostaglandins — hormone-like compounds that are primarily responsible for the uterine contractions you experience during menstruation, Dr. Javaid says.
"Prostaglandins, among other factors, are considered pro-inflammatory markers, meaning they play a role in the pain you experience with menstrual cramping," she says.
These hormones can also cause your blood vessels to dilate significantly during your menstrual period, which could cause the occasional dizzy episodes you feel with a strong, painful cramp.
Keep using those heating pads to relieve muscle contractions and stay hydrated. Dr. Javaid says non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can also lessen painful menstrual cramps, as they stop the production of prostaglandins.
3. Your Hormones Are Fluctuating
If you don't experience full-on dizziness with your period but tend to feel lightheaded right before menstruation, it could be due to the fluctuation in your hormone levels.
Dr. Javaid says this happens because estrogen and progesterone — hormones that play a role in our reproductive and sexual health — can cause changes in blood sugar levels.
"These fluctuations may impact blood sugar levels, causing dizziness," she adds.
Dr. Danis also mentions that endocrine imbalances, such as thyroid disorders, ovulatory dysfunction or anovulation (when your ovaries don't release eggs during menstruation, per the Cleveland Clinic) can also affect hormone levels, causing lightheadedness and irregular menstrual bleeding.
Parents who breastfeed or chestfeed their children can also experience an elevated level of the hormone prolactin, which may cause dizziness, according to Dr. Danis. Chestfeeding can also cause a dysregulated cycle, meaning you might have a heavier-than-normal flow, which can make you feel less sturdy on your feet.
To manage your blood sugar levels, make sure to eat meals at regularly scheduled times, stay hydrated and try not to skip meals, Dr. Danis says. If you are worried about your thyroid or ovulatory function, see your ob-gyn to get tested.
4. You Have a Uterine Fibroid (Myoma)
If your dizzy episodes don't seem connected to your blood sugar but rather a result of heavy bleeding, you may be experiencing uterine fibroids (or myomas) — tumors made of smooth muscle cells that develop in the uterus, per UCLA Health. These tumors are typically benign and fairly common, affecting 70 to 80 percent of people with uteruses in their lifetime.
Other symptoms of uterine fibroids can include the following, per UCLA Health:
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Frequent urination
- Low back pain
- Pain during intercourse
Similarly, you can get growths in your uterine lining called endometrial polyps, Dr. Danis says. "These arise from the overgrowth of the endometrial glandular tissue in your uterus," she adds. While these are also often benign, they can bleed.
The pain and loss of blood from these growths can be a reason why you might feel lightheaded and dizzy during your period.
If you don't typically experience heavy bleeding during your cycle, but do all of a sudden, Dr. Danis recommends booking an appointment with your ob-gyn for an ultrasound to see if fibroids or polyps are causing the change.
5. It's Your Copper IUD
If you recently decided to get a copper IUD (the most common brand being Paraguard) implanted for birth control, Dr. Danis says you may notice an uptick in the amount of blood you release during your cycle.
Indeed, a November 2018 review in PLOS One (which collected several study findings) discovered that increased bleeding and cramping during menstruation was the most common symptom reported after IUD insertion.
Some in the study even experienced bleeding throughout the entire month. While this is considered normal and will eventually lessen over time, the first few months can be a difficult transition as your body adjusts, especially if you're feeling dizzy.
First, try taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) if needed for pain. Be sure to stay in contact with your doctor and take note of your cycle changes. If you find the bleeding interferes with daily living, your ob-gyn can offer different contraception options that may not result in a heavier flow.
6. You're Exhausted
Another reason why you're feeling lightheaded on your period? You may simply just be tired.
Some people experience insomnia leading up to their period (a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome), per a February 2017 report in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders. So you may be due for some rest once your period arrives.
Similarly, Dr. Danis says people may also feel more tired at the end of their menstrual cycle, due to hormonal changes. In other words: Periods can make you tired pretty much from the week before they start until the tail end — and that exhaustion can result in dizziness.
Listen to your body's cues in the time before and on your period, especially if you experience premenstrual syndrome. Get plenty of rest, eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated and try gentle movement like walking, cycling or yoga for relief.
When to See a Doctor
People with uteruses can experience a wide range of symptoms during their period, but any new symptoms (such as those considered "unusual" for your body) should be discussed with your ob-gyn or primary care doctor, Dr. Javaid says.
It's worth noting, however, that occasional dizziness before and during your period is generally no cause for concern.
"If the dizziness persists, does not improve with at-home interventions, interferes with your normal, daily activities, intensifies or is coupled with extreme fatigue and heavy blood loss, a timely visit to your doctor is warranted," Dr. Javaid says.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.