Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is a side effect of many common drugs. And it can be risky because you could fall and hurt yourself. Falls in general are a major cause of injuries, sending millions to emergency rooms each year and causing more than 25,000 deaths, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Research shows that the more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall. But what can you do? You’re taking the meds because you need them. Turns out, people respond differently to different drugs, so if one makes you dizzy, another might not, say researchers at the Chicago Medical School. Or you might be able to reduce the dose—but only with your doctor’s approval, of course
Here are some common drugs that can cause dizziness (all require a prescription, unless noted), plus what to consider trying instead. If you don’t see your drug here but you’ve noticed dizziness, check the drug info given to you by the pharmacist or ask your doctor whether your medication could be the cause. (Important: If you or somebody you are with experiences dizziness along with chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, leg or arm weakness, seizures, or fainting, call an ambulance immediately.)
Read about shocking side effects caused by sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, and other drugs.
Used for: Depression and anxiety.
Examples: Fluoxetine (Prozac) and trazodone (Desyrel).
What to try instead: Counseling or psychotherapy can often help. But don’t stop taking an antidepressant—or any prescription drug—without your doc’s OK.
Used for: Bipolar disorder, diabetic neuropathy, epilepsy, and fibromyalgia.
Examples: Divalproex (Depakote), gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin (Lyrica).
What to try instead: If you have epilepsy, it’s best to keep taking your meds and ask your doctor about whether you need a drug-level check, adjustment of your dosing schedule, or a different medication. But there’s limited evidence that anti-convulsants help with the other conditions listed, and they can pose serious risks. Talk to your doctor about other options that might be safer and work better.
Used for: High blood pressure..
Examples: All drugs used to treat the condition, including ACE inhibitors such as lisinopril (Zestril), beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal), diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide, and calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine (Procardia).
What to try instead: Losing weight—with exercise and a healthy diet—can reduce or even eliminate the need for drugs. If that doesn’t lower your blood pressure enough, ask your doc about trying a different drug.
Used for: Back, head, and neck pain.
Examples: Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix) and metaxalone (Skelaxin).
What to try instead: Little evidence shows that those drugs work, so first try nondrug therapies such as a heating pad, exercise, biofeedback, physical therapy, progressive relaxation, massage, and yoga. You might also want to try an over-thecounter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic) or naproxen (Aleve and generic). They also have been associated with dizziness, but it’s rare.
Read more about the best treatments for headache, neck, and lower back pain, and 5 things to know about prescription painkillers.
Used for: Pain.
Examples: Hydrocodone (an opioid) and over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen.
What to try instead: For everyday pain, try acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic).
Used for: Insomnia.
Examples: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Unisom, Sominex), temazepam (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zolpidem (Ambien).
What to try instead: A type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy may work as well as or even better than sleeping pills. Also try improving your sleep by avoiding caffeine after dinner and turning off computers and TV within 1 hour of bedtime.
Used for: Angina (chest pain).
What to try instead: There is no substitute for nitroglycerin, but you can reduce your risk of dizziness by sitting down before taking it and remaining seated for up to 5 minutes afterward, says our chief medical adviser, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs™ is a public information project of Consumer Reports, and is made possible by grants from the State Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program which is funded by the multi-state settlement of consumer fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin.