Episodic Dizziness in Patients with Pulmonary Fibrosis

Episodic Dizziness in Patients with Pulmonary Fibrosis

It’s reasonable to assume that dizziness would be a common symptom of having poorly functioning lungs due to chronic underoxygenation. However, now that my lungs are weak thanks to idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), the causes of my particular symptoms are more complicated. I have had occasional bouts of dizziness in the past, but these have become more frequent in the last couple of weeks.

As my lungs continue to decline, certain movements have become more difficult and can result in unpleasant symptoms. For example, bending over to pick up something almost always results in a head rush where I become dizzy and wobbly on my feet. Squatting to tidy things on the floor, engage with young children, or tie my shoe leaves me breathless and sore. I didn’t have a problem with these tasks before my diagnosis.

It might seem obvious that bending over, lifting heavy objects, or other physical exertion would cause dizziness in a person with IPF. However, I haven’t been able to link what appear to be recurrent episodes of dizziness over the last few weeks with any specific movement or activity. I asked a colleague at BioNews about this and he told me he used to get dizzy when he would stand up too quickly. However, my experience is different as I become dizzy at random moments, regardless of whether I am sitting or standing.

These dizzy episodes have continued, although I am happy to share that they appear to be subsiding. Some of the members of our Pulmonary Fibrosis Forums offered me insights into why this might be happening based on their experiences with this cruel disease.

If you haven’t checked out our forums yet, please do. There you can connect with people who are compassionate, kind, and supportive of others living with IPF.

Some forum members who also experience episodic dizziness helped me compile a list of the possible causes. Here are some of the most common reasons people with IPF might experience episodic dizziness:

  • Low blood sugar or hunger: Gastrointestinal issues are a common side effect of anti-fibrotic medications such as Ofev (nintedanib) and Esbriet (pirfenidone). Patients may lose their appetite, which can lead to low blood sugar. A nurse once told me when I was recovering from a procedure and didn’t want to eat due to the anesthesia that hunger pangs can cause nausea and dizziness. So it’s likely that if someone is eating very little, he or she could feel dizzy.
  • Dehydration: I have learned this lesson the hard way more than once. Before my diagnosis, I was always on the go, and sometimes I failed to set aside adequate time for meals or sleep. I loved my hectic schedule because it involved seeing friends and family regularly, in addition to working full-time and playing sports. However, I often paid for it because I wouldn’t give my body what it needed. I was once hospitalized for dehydration and was given IV fluids. One of my symptoms was dizziness. Since then, I make sure I am always hydrated. So dehydration is unlikely to be the cause of my recent dizziness episodes.
  • Getting up too fast from sitting: Many patients with IPF or other types of interstitial lung diseases (ILDs) have shared with me that they experienced dizziness from arising too quickly from a seated position. This dizziness is worse if they stand up after a prolonged period of sitting.
  • Low oxygen saturation: If our oxygen levels are low it means our bodies are being deprived of what they need to survive, and this can cause dizziness. Many patients with IPF have an oxygen probe to measure their levels regularly. I have not noticed a significant change in my oxygen levels either during exertion or while sedentary. I will continue to monitor my levels. At my next appointment, I will suggest to my pulmonologist that we re-evaluate my supplemental oxygen requirements. I have been wearing it more often since these episodes began.
  • Fatigue: This is a relatively common symptom of IPF, and dizziness is a side effect of being overtired.

Have you experienced episodic dizziness since your IPF/PF diagnosis? If so, do you have any solutions or remedies to share?

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Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

2 comments

  1. Nancy says:

    My pulmonary fibrosis was caused by rheumatoid arthritis. In reading many of your posts describing individual symptoms of IPF, it sounds as if we have many of the same or similar symptoms. I, too, experience shortness of breath when I bend over. I certainly could be mistaken, but I thought this was caused by physically compressing the lungs as I bend over, thus resulting in less oxygen intake. Your thoughts?

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thanks so much for reading my columns and getting in touch via the comments. I’ve been reading a lot about the connection between RA and IPF; although not understanding all of it since it is mostly literature from medical journals/studies. I’ve never been tested for any type of arthritis, but I’d suspect elevated bloodwork numbers would show up if I had this? Most of my bloodwork markers (inflammation, etc) aren’t abnormally high. Maybe it is worth a discussion with my doctor though. I’m not entirely sure about your thoughts on the lungs compressing when we bend over. I don’t think that is the case, as our rib cage protects our lungs and moves with our torso, but I certainly could be wrong. Something to think about for sure. For me, the dizziness and shortness of breath when I bend over is definitely from reduced oxygen as my numbers often drop on my oximeter. Curious to hear others thoughts….

      Thanks for writing.
      Charlene.

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