Acute Dizziness & Sweating
June 5, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

What might have caused my recent episode of acute dizziness and sweating?

First off, yes, I've already been to my doctor about this. She was concerned, and if I have another episode, she's going to go nuclear and check everything. I'm curious if anyone else has had this happen and figured out the cause.

Earlier this week, I was at the grocery store when suddenly I became very lightheaded and started sweating profusely. It was somewhat warm outside, and I had walked about a mile, but I had been in the air-conditioned store for ten minutes or so. I didn't feel at all overheated when the sweating was going on -- it was very much a cold clammy sweatiness.

I never quite felt like I was going to *actually* pass out, though; if there had been any options other than sitting on the floor of the grocery store, I would definitely have done so. I was able to complete my shopping and check out. I bought a single-serving chocolate milk in case it was a low blood sugar thing, and that might have helped, but the episode might have been tapering off anyway. I was able to walk the quarter mile home, though it wasn't especially fun.

When I got home, I discovered that I had sweated through the chest of my shirt, belly, armpits, back, shoulders, and even the collar, so it was a lot of sweat. I felt a little weird through the evening and the next day, though some of that was just being freaked out.

Could this just be a weird blood sugar thing? I've been trying to eat regularly (and lots of protein) in the couple of days since it happened.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This describes exactly what happens to me when my blood sugar crashes. (It usually happens in the middle of the night to me.) I usually get some nausea, too, and shortness of breath. Luckily if I have something to eat right away it goes away very quickly.
posted by asterix at 9:49 PM on June 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

It could be all kinds of things. You could have been dehydrated, you could have anemia, it could be some sort of infection... and there are many more possibilities, ranging from minor things to scary illnesses. Really, I don't think there's too much point speculating here. Did your doctor do blood work? Even if that didn't answer the question, it would eliminate lot of possibilities.

You talk about low blood sugar. Do you have diabetes? It's my understanding that low blood sugar isn't really a thing, unless you are being treated for diabetes or you have some either condition that causes low blood sugar.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It certainly can be blood sugar, but it could also be basically anything. I had one today that I think is a thing my PMS does these days - not a hot flash as I was also feeling cold and clammy. I've also had various symptoms of a cold coming on, so it might be my ears.

My mother frequently has a vasovagal-type faintness in warehouse stores and high-ceilinged grocery stores, something to do with the flickering of the lighting.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:57 PM on June 5, 2014

Reactive hypoglycemia is a thing. What did you have to eat that same day you had the episode? Something super-carby?
posted by un petit cadeau at 10:04 PM on June 5, 2014

I've been trying to eat regularly (and lots of protein) in the couple of days since it happened.

If you were not eating regularly, that could definitely be the cause of it. I work overnight shifts and sometimes my food choices are limited, so i skip meals more often than I should (or just eat pop tarts or something), and I have definitely gotten dizzy spells because of it.
posted by empath at 10:08 PM on June 5, 2014

Have you been especially stressed lately? It could have been a panic attack.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:09 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like one of my bouts of anxiety. I also have hyperthyroidism that causes clammy sweats and increased heart rate and blood pressure that made me dizzy. So, yeah, I'm always sweating for one reason or another. Good times.
posted by cecic at 10:56 PM on June 5, 2014

Too many possibilities but a few things that need to be considered quickly are:
- low blood sugar (as you suspected)
- coronary heart disease (likelihood depends on your risk factors but the most important cause to rule out based on your symptoms)
- thyroid dysfunction (symptoms tend not to fluctuate so a little lower down on the list)

after these baseline tests, assuming the physical examination is unremarkable, rarer things that require specialized tests.
posted by ianK at 12:53 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something similar happened to me* when I was on vacation and after discussing it with my SO, we pinned it on low blood sugar and dehydration being the most likely causes. Neither of us are doctors, but since it was an isolated incident I didn't think too much of it. If it had happened again, I would have gone to the doctor for their opinion or to run some tests.

*After a long day in the sun, we went to dinner at the resort's restaurant. After a few minutes in the air conditioning, I felt really faint. I, like you, had to sit down immediately. Once I was sitting on the floor in the middle of the buffet area (feeling like an idiot didn't matter at that point), I noticed I was sweating profusely. When I felt less dizzy, my SO took me to the nearest table and I drank a whole bunch of water. After 5 minutes, I ate a few crackers and just tried to steady myself. I was still sweaty, despite the frigid AC, but the dizziness went away. I felt completely normal the next day.
posted by gursky at 1:55 AM on June 6, 2014

I had something similar happen in similar circumstances and then never again. An elderly relative has similar spells each summer as the weather changes and her doctors say she gets a potassium deficiency that causes it, could be something to read up on? It also sounds not unlike an anxiety attack in some ways.
posted by Iteki at 2:23 AM on June 6, 2014

Have your blood sugar levels checked, especially your A1C. I tend to have low A1C levels and if I don't eat for more than a few hours, all manner of strange things start to happen. My primary care doctor's the one who called my attention to this issue as the probable cause of some things that were happening to me physically, and I'm glad he did.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:02 AM on June 6, 2014

As a diabetic on insulin, it does sound somewhat like a mild hypo (low blood sugar) - I've had them when I've not eaten enough and have too much insulin in my system. Feeling heady / dizzy, sweating, numb / tingling lips and distorted vision are all symptoms I've had. My dad, who I have mentioned previously in an AskMe question, had a full-blown hypo that resulted in a LOT of sweating, much as you have described. However, a hypo is generally rare in my experience, even on four injections a day.

If you had been very active and had not eaten enough it is conceivable that you might have been experiencing a crash, or if you'd been drinking alcohol as that can lower blood sugar too. I also think it might have as much to do with changes in temperature and lighting, as others have mentioned - a perfect storm of possible triggers.

Hope you're OK now.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 5:25 AM on June 6, 2014

This was me 2 years ago. Many doctors later, including a cardiologist, a neurologist took the time to look over all of my records. Common denominator: low blood pressure. I have been congratulated at every doctor visit for not having high blood pressure, but nobody noticed that my blood pressure was consistently in the toilet. LOW BP is just something medical professionals aren't on the lookout for.
posted by ezust at 5:32 AM on June 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

This has happened to me because of dehydration. One time I passed out and went to the hospital, which was exciting. It turns out that I am extremely bad at getting thirsty/doing anything about being thirsty, which I am working on.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 5:53 AM on June 6, 2014

That regularly happens to me because of low blood pressure. Staying well hydrated and eating plenty of salt reduces its frequency but does not eliminate it. I'm guessing you were slightly dehydrated from the walk. (And I'm surprised this wasn't the first thing your doctor jumped to.)

They ensured I didn't have any heart problems causing the low blood pressure and sent me on my way; there is no reasonable treatment. I am told I have "great" blood pressure at my doctor's appointments and roll my eyes.
posted by metasarah at 5:57 AM on June 6, 2014

That exactly describes how I feel after giving blood (I assume you didn't give blood or you would have mentioned it), which is why I don't give blood anymore. So I vote for dehydration/low blood pressure.
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on June 6, 2014

Sounds like classic early symptoms of heat stroke they include profuse sweating & dizziness. Heat stroke and dehydration are not the same thing, and if you had gotten over heated before you went into the store even being in the airconditioning for a little while might not have been enough to cool you down if you were overdressed or moving around. It does not have to be super hot out to get heat stroke simply if you are rushing around busy on a warm day, exercising or have too many clothes on so your body can't regulate it's heat well can also cause it.
posted by wwax at 7:21 AM on June 6, 2014

I'm mildly hypoglycemic, and this is how it manifests EVERY TIME. I usually get cocolate milk too, orange juice is also good.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2014

I get this a few times a year and for me the common factor is always dehydration. Often it's also associated with being hungover, being anxious, being overheated or overexertion, being on my feet, and/or not eating well that day.

The best fix I've found is drinking a ton of water, and much much more so if you can get a bunch of ginger into it in some form. I also tend to be OK after sitting down for awhile.

It's interesting that your doctor was concerned though. I've never asked about it, maybe I should. Certainly any advice from your doctor should trump any of ours.
posted by randomnity at 9:07 AM on June 6, 2014

This has happened to me in the past for a variety of reasons:

- bad reaction to ADHD medicine
- lifelong low blood pressure
- lady hormones fucking all my shit up
posted by elizardbits at 9:44 AM on June 6, 2014

I had this happen to me a couple times within a few months of each other when I was in my 20s. I'm about to hit the big 4-0, and it never happened again. At the time, I talked to two different doctors about it, and, even after the second one, they chalked it up to a vasovagal response, which can be caused be a bunch of things, many—as in my case, apparently—harmless.

So, good job going to the doctor. If it happens again, go back. But it could be nothing, and it's possible it will never happen again, so don't worry too much.
posted by BrashTech at 10:37 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest a vagal response. I rode the Tower of Terror at Disney World and felt the same way afterward. Two people in my family are nurses and they both said (separately) "I bet you clenched your sphincter." Apparently it can make you feel terrible.
posted by tacodave at 2:51 PM on June 6, 2014

I've had this happen to me before twice and it was dehydration and a panic attack. Ugh.
posted by sperose at 6:07 PM on June 6, 2014

LOW BP is just something medical professionals aren't on the lookout for.

This is in fact the first thing that is looked for in a acutely unwell patient.

The reason it is ignored is very simply because low BP without an underlying pathological cause has never killed anyone.

Chalking up scary symptoms to physiological low BP is negligence if dangerous causes are not ruled out first.
posted by ianK at 2:07 AM on June 7, 2014

I had the exact same reaction when I went from the ultraviolently hot car into the air conditioned big box store. I chalked it up to mild hyperthermia. I have certainly occasionally had to lie down on the floor when doing some hard cycling and not cooling down gradually.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:34 AM on June 7, 2014

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