Believe it or not, there are a high number of reported cases of people feeling dizzy after eating. This condition can likely be triggered by several factors:
Post prandial hypotension
Post prandial hypotension is a common condition that causes dizziness, light-headedness after eating. The condition is common among the elderly population. Furthermore, it is a condition that mostly affects people with high blood pressure, or people who exhibit disorders that affect the brain or the nervous system, e.g Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, multiple system atrophy.
Post prandial hypotension is an excessive decrease in blood pressure that occurs after eating. The timing of the fall in blood pressure varies for each person. The decline in blood pressure may occur immediately after a meal, or about 15 minutes after a meal. There are instances where you may experience a fall after a meal.
The cause of postprandial hypotension remains unknown. However, there are people with a genetic predisposition to the condition. Alternatively, the people who have experienced trauma, stroke, or any damage to the nervous system, may experience postprandial depression.
In most cases, the most common culprit is the decline in high blood pressure. After meal ingestion, there is a significant re-distribution of blood to the splanchnic circulation. The blood flow increases by up to 25%. It is likely that this blood flow, together with a decline in autonomic (sympathetic) nerve activity and a possible alterations in neurohumoral mechanisms may play a role in the onset of the condition.
There are several factors that are thought to influence the degree of post prandial hypotension. They include food-related factors such as:
- Composition of the meal
- The patient’s co-morbidities (e.g if the patient has conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, or diabetes)
- Drugs (diuretics, anti-hypertensives, and selective serotonin uptake inhibitors may trigger the condition)
The composition of the meal is important. Food high in glucose is likely to trigger hypotension at a higher degree compared to fats, proteins or carbohydrates. Furthermore, the degree of gastric distension based on the size of the meal may influence blood pressure.
The key signs and symptoms to look for include:
- Post prandial hypotension is more prevalent and profound in the morning (i.e feeling faint after eating breakfast)
- Chest pain
- Sleepiness (feeling drowsy)
- Syncope (Fainting)
- Lack of concentration
Atherosclerosis is a cardiovascular condition affecting the arteries. It occurs when there is cholesterol deposition of cholesterol on the arterial wall, triggered by LDL cholesterol being circulated in the body. The cholesterol build-up triggers an inflammatory reaction in which the arterial walls thicken. This in turn leads to a decrease in the arteries internal diameter.
One of the symptoms of atherosclerosis includes dizziness and fatigue after eating. The narrowing of the arteries due to the cholesterol deposition reduces the blood supply to vital organs, including the intestines. As a consequence, you may experience dizziness after eating a meal. Other symptoms to look out for include:
- Cramping in the middle abdomen that may occur 15-30 minutes after a meal. You may also experience abdominal swelling and vomiting
- Blood-stained stool
- Chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations
- Cramping in the leg muscles, especially after exercise
- Visual disturbance
- Dizziness or confusion
Kidney or thyroid disease
The kidney plays a vital role in regulating your body’s blood pressure. As a consequence, any condition disrupting the kidney’s performance, may trigger the feeling of light-headedness after eating. Similarly, diseases affecting the thyroid gland, e.g thyroid nodules, trauma to the thyroid, or any disease affecting the thyroid gland may make you experience dizziness after eating.
The digestion is a complex process involving various organs. As a consequence, a disruption in the performance of any of those organs can generally trigger dizziness after eating. That said, gastrointestinal disease refers to any disease affecting the small and large intestines, the stomach, the oesophagus, rectum and the accessory organs of digestion (pancreas, liver, and gall bladder). Any condition affecting the gastrointestinal tract, including gastritis, or acid reflux, can lead to dizziness after a meal.
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, or during the menstrual cycle can cause nausea, and or dizziness after eating. Some women experience nausea before a meal. Others experience nausea, or dizziness after meal. The hormonal imbalance in the body affects the digestive system. For instance, pregnant women may experience a relaxation of the oesophagus and stomach muscles. This relaxation may trigger an acid reflux which in turn causes nausea, dizziness after eating, and a heightened sense of smell.
There are certain medications that may cause dizziness after eating. These medications include antibiotics, blood pressure medicines, chemotherapy drugs, pain relief medicines, and medicines used to treat depression and anxiety. It is important to consult your doctor if you suspect that your medication may be the cause of the dizziness.
There are people who are intolerant to certain foods. For instance, some people are lactose intolerant. Other people are intolerant to gluten, or foods that cause intestinal gas. Intake of meals with these foods may trigger dizziness after eating. Similarly, food allergies can trigger dizziness minutes after taking the meal.
There are foods that may trigger dizziness after a meal. For instance, fatty foods, caffeinated drinks. Alcoholic beverages, or processed foods may make some people feel dizzy after eating. It is advisable to avoid eating large meals as they can disrupt the digestive system leading to the dizziness. At the same time, it is advisable to avoid taking sugary beverages in between meals as they can affect your blood pressure leading to light-headedness or fatigue after a meal.
Ways to avoid feeling light-headed after eating
There are certain measures that you can try out to avoid the dizziness. They include:
- Stay hydrated: The Harvard Health Website recommends a daily intake of 12-18 ounces of water before a meal. This will help regulate your blood pressure which is good for you
- Take small meals: Rather than taking one large meal at once, opt to take smaller portions of meals several times a day.
- Restrict your intake of processed foods, refined sugars, white bread, or white rice: These foods contribute to a decline in your blood pressure after ingestion. Alternatively, go for healthier options such as whole foods, lean proteins and DHL cholesterol (e.g. coconut oil, olive oil).
- Take your time: Do not be in a hurry after a meal. Take time to enjoy your meal and allow it to settle before going about your affairs. This will help minimize the risk of dizziness or falling down after eating. It may be helpful to lie down for a few minutes or take a few breaths to prevent dizziness.
- Consider keeping a log noting the foods eaten and how long it takes for the dizziness to occur: In case the dizziness prevails, you should consider keeping a track record of the foods eaten and how long it takes for the dizziness to set in. This will help your doctor in diagnosis.
There are so many other factors that may trigger dizziness after eating. They include emotional distress, mental illness, eating disorders such as bulimia, or other cardiovascular conditions. It is important to consult your doctor to determine whether the dizziness is as a result of some underlying medical condition. Alternatively, if you are pregnant, or if you experience this symptom during your menses, you can try eating light meals, staying hydrated, or any of the mentioned tips.
- Jackson S., Jansen P.,& Mangoni A., (2009) Prescribing for Elderly Patients, John Wiley & Sons,