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December 17th, 2021

Dizziness and vertigo during pregnancy


by Claire McGlynn, PT FCAMPT

As if pregnancy didn’t have enough of its own challenges, now you find yourself with sudden vertigo, nausea, vomiting or dizziness. Can’t a girl catch a break?

Why you can experience dizziness during pregnancy

Hormonal changes during pregnancy, and for some women during a normal menstrual cycle or menopause, can affect the fluid balance of a structure in your inner ear that is responsible for balance, posture and stabilizing your vision and head movements. These structures are part of the vestibular system. Including 3 semicircular canals and the nerves connecting them to your brain, neck and eyes. 

When the fluid balance is disrupted, it can change the information going from the vestibular system to the brain, eyes and neck. This can create a sensory mismatch, causing spinning, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms of Vestibular Dysfunction

Vestibular dysfunction can show up as changes to your balance, walking. Or feeling like you are floating, all possibly leading to falls. Postural changes, ligament laxity and joint changes as the baby grows also contribute to an increase in fall risk.

There are other possible causes of sudden vertigo or dizziness during pregnancy, like vestibular neuritis. This is an  inflammation of the vestibular nerve, often from a cold or flu that you might have had prior to your symptoms. There are some medications that are safe to take during pregnancy for the first few days of such an attack.

Benign Positional Vertigo, when crystals in the inner ear dislodge into the semicircular canals, can also cause vertigo. This scenario is more likely in women of childbearing years who have had a previous history of head injury, whiplash or concussion.

The good news is that a disturbance in the system, created by BPPV,  hormonal fluctuations or a virus, does improve over several days or weeks. The brain detects the changes and eventually calibrates things, returning the system to normal. That’s why vertigo tends to be worse in the 1st trimester-the vestibular system has habituated. And, although the vertigo might settle, it seems that dizziness can extend into the second trimester, possibly because it can take your brain some time to calibrate. 

How Physiotherapy can help

The even better news? A physiotherapist who treats vestibular disorders can assess and treat your vestibular function during this event. The assessment includes a look at your balance, head and eye coordination,  identifying the canal affected by any dislodged crystals and any motion sensitivity that you might have. Treatment may include using positional maneuvers to clear crystals out of your semicircular canals, balance and “head shaking” exercises to help calibrate your system. As well as suggestions for fall prevention and tips to reduce dizziness, like exercise, energy pacing, and hydration.

In summary then, vertigo and dizziness can pop up during pregnancy and it can affect your balance and stability which can increase your risk of falling. Other factors like postural changes, ligament laxity and joint changes can contribute to that risk. A physiotherapist who has experience treating vestibular disorders can assess and treat your issue and get you back on track.

Meet Claire McGlynn, Physiotherapist

Claire McGlynn brings an extensive clinical background as a Physiotherapist with 19 years experience. Including comprehensive treatments for a wide variety of acute and chronic back pain, and peripheral joint injuries. Claire has a particular interest in treating prenatal complaints, vestibular dysfunction (dizziness, vertigo, BPPV, and balance disorders), concussion symptoms, knee injuries (ACL / MCL/ meniscal tears), pelvic girdle pain, hip labral pathologies, OA, and much more.

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