Headaches and Dizziness

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

Q. Hi, I am 51 years old and work full time. Recently I've been getting bad headaches and feel dizzy all the time. My sleep patterns have been all over the place as well. I need to work, because I'm widowed, but I find it hard to function at the most basic things like getting to work on public transport, concentrating on my computer work, making a meal in the evening. Can you help me at all? Thanks.

A. I am concerned about headaches and dizziness in someone your age. See your doctor right away.

Your symptoms may be signs of hypertension (high blood pressure) and should be checked out. Stroke, the third leading cause of death in women, is associated with hypertension.

Another possible explanation for your symptoms is low estrogen, especially the sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.

Both hypertension and low estrogen are fairly easy to diagnose. You could buy a home blood pressure monitor and take your blood pressure regularly, making notes of your symptoms, and then share this chart with your physician.

Stress, depression, or grief (how long have you been widowed?) may also be playing a role here, causing you to toss and turn at night. Lack of sleep is a common cause of headaches, and it is pretty hard to concentrate when you are exhausted (ask any medical intern!).

To break the cycle of sleeplessness:

  • Begin a sleep regimen where you go to bed at the same time each night.
  • Do not use alcohol to sleep (this will worsen the problem in the long run).
  • Establish little routines such as a hot bath or some light reading for no longer than 15 minutes.
  • Eliminate any caffeine in the afternoon or evening.
  • Try not to sleep during the day -- this will just make it more difficult to keep to a nighttime sleep routine.

These first steps are only the beginning and you should follow up with your doctor to confirm what the next steps should be, including any additional testing.