Salt is Bad for you.. they say.
Diagnosis of a blood pressure disorder that caused unexplained fainting and dizzy spells. Cutting salt out of your diet is not always good for you. Caffeine abuse and hypotension don't mix...

Someone with a Clue

The new doctor, also from our small town, had a different theory. He started with my heart - and ruled out all chances that it was slowing or speeding up on its own. Either of those could cause a fainting spell. I had come in to the ER once more displaying symptoms of wild blood pressure changes and obvious disorientation. My new doctor knew a friend at the Mayo clinic who he wanted to ask about this, and it just happened he was going to make a visit to our hospital soon. I was signed up for a new test.

The clinic doctor took my blood pressure when I was lying down, then when I was sitting up, then right after I stood up. I didn't have a dizzy spell, but my blood pressure dropped, drastically, upon the change of position. It dropped much more than twenty points, and it was 'low' (around 110) to begin with. During my dizzy spells the pressure must have dropped even lower, to 80 or so, which would definitely cause physical symptoms.

Usually low blood pressure is 'healthy.' However, when it drops below a certain point, especially quickly, the body can't adjust. He had found why I was fainting, and no, it was not 'growing pains.' This was called orthostatic hypotension, a fancy name for the blood was rushing out of my brain in an upright position quicker than it could compensate to pump it back up.

Usually this condition is found in older people, which was why my doctor never looked for it. It has become much more common in young people, especially tall, thin people who are very active. It also didn't help that like most American kids I liked caffeine. Caffeine aggravates the condition. It is a diuretic, which removes more water from your system than it puts in. The answer was for me to reduce the amount of caffeine I took in (ouch!) and increase the amount of water and salt in my diet.

The Solution is knowing your Limits

I haven't been able to give up the coffee, except when other things really press it. I still have about a half-cup a day, mixed with milk. However, at the time of my fainting spell, I was up to about a 2-liter of Mountain Dew over the course of the day plus 4-6 cups of coffee - so yes, there needed to be an intervention there. If I wasn't 'abusing caffeine' at that point already, it would have only gotten worse.

Now I liberally put salt on things when it tastes good. What had been a 'always bad for you' thing in my mother's house became my alternative to a medication. (I tried the medication for a short time, it gave me the shakes) The moment I had a good explanation for these dizzy spells they stopped ruling my life and my actions. I packed my things and left for college in another state, still against my mother's wishes. At least I knew what I was up against now, and had seen some of the effects of the 'treatment' already. I had a countermeasure to the dizziness. Just knowing it wasn't a brain tumor or heart defect waiting to spring on me someday gave me the freedom to say 'I'm going to go live my life now.' I got my driver's license (at age 20) and finally left the nest.

Other Factors

I have had dizzy spells since, but at least they have been because I didn't follow the rules. I have a high metabolism and a tendency to eat high-calorie food in small, frequent amounts. I never wanted to 'get fat' and was always very active. When I don't eat the right foods and lose weight the dizzy spells become more frequent. For a good time I lived with someone who was a 'vegan.' It seemed I never could eat enough to keep my weight up during that time, unless I cooked separate meals for each of us. Money was tight and he didn't want to buy more food than he thought was necessary. I wasn't eating right, was 5 foot, seven inches and 122 lbs, and was having frequent dizzy spells. Taking in an adequate supply of protein daily, along with the water and salt, is also an important component. I've been eating better for six months now, on my own high-calorie, low-bulk diet (lots of good fats and protein) and have not had a major dizzy spell since January of 2007.

The dizzy spell I had in January had been due to immersion in a hot tub. Apparently, although I haven't researched it, the drastic difference in temperature can cause a drop in blood pressure as well. Luckily I keep the bath water at a lower temperature now.

Eating smaller meals more frequently also helps when you are hypotensive. A large meal means more blood is going to your stomach to process the food. It is well documented that dizzy spells (and not just in me) are more likely to happen after a large meal because there is less blood volume available until after the food has been processed. Drinking a glass of water with your meal, and eating slowly may help avert the dizzy spell, if this is the case.

Pregnancy and Hypotension

I am 28 and pregnant with our first child. They say the blood volume of a woman increases greatly with pregnancy. Originally, I was worried this would mean special care would have to be taken. Drinking lots of water helps that blood volume expand, and about 20% of it is now going through our baby as well as through me. Most women are worried about high blood pressure in their pregnancies, but my blood pressure amounts have been within normal ranges and everything seems to be going fine. I am very very thirsty though, and this too, is right on track ;) During this pregnancy I haven't had a single dizzy spell, not even a minor one.

So, salt is not always bad for you. Cutting it out of your diet does not instantly make you healthier, in all circumstances. Every body is different and requires different things to stay healthy. I'd take a small plate of 'high-calorie', salted food over a low-salt bulk meal any day. But that won't work for everyone, especially those with high blood pressure, a slow metabolism or a heart condition. Nutrition and healthy eating doesn't mean the same for everybody, and it really does pay to know what your specific body needs to be healthy, at all of life's stages.

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