Feeling dizzy or lightheaded is one of the most common side effects of many prescription drugs. Meds that cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, dehydration, or low blood sugar can trigger dizziness, which can also increase your risk of falling and hurting yourself. Studies demonstrate that the more medications you take, the more likely you are to fall—and that's especially true in older adults.

Falls are a major cause of injuries, sending millions to emergency rooms each year and causing more than 32,000 deaths, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Dizziness may be caused, or made worse, by taking a combination of drug products or by drinking alcohol with your medication," says Barb Young, RPh, an editor at the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists. "Always tell your pharmacist all of the medications that you are taking or plan to take, including OTC products or alcohol,” she notes.

More on Drug Safety

If a certain drug makes you dizzy, ask your doctor whether you can change medications, say researchers at the Chicago Medical School. Or you might be able to reduce your risk by reducing the dose.

With the help of the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacist, CR Best Buy Drugs put together a list of common drugs that can cause dizziness (all require a prescription, unless noted), plus what to consider trying instead.

If you don’t see your drug here but you’ve felt dizzy, check the drug information you got from the pharmacist or ask your doctor whether your medication could be the cause.

Most important, if you or somebody you are with experiences dizziness along with chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, leg or arm weakness, seizures, or fainting, call 911 immediately. It could be the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke.


Used for: Bipolar disorder, diabetic neuropathy, epilepsy, and fibromyalgia.

Examples: Divalproex (Depakote), gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin (Lyrica).

What to try instead: If you have epilepsy, keep taking your meds and ask your doctor about whether you need a drug-level check, adjustment of your dosing schedule, or a different medication. Talk to your doctor about other options that might be safer and work better.


Used for: Depression and anxiety.

Examples: Fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), and trazodone (Desyrel).

What to try instead: Counseling or psychotherapy can often help as much or more than medication, especially for mild depression. But don’t suddenly stop taking an antidepressant—or any prescription drug—without your doctor’s OK. Doing so could trigger withdrawl symptoms.

Blood Pressure Drugs

Used for: High blood pressure.

Examples: All drugs used to treat the condition, including ACE inhibitors such as lisinopril (Zestril), beta-blockers such as propranolol (Inderal), metoprolol (Lopressor), diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide, and calcium-channel blockers such as amlodipine (Norvasc) .

What to try instead: Losing weight—with exercise and a healthy diet—can reduce or even eliminate the need for drugs. If that doesn’t lower your blood pressure enough, ask your doc about trying a different drug or combination of drugs.

Muscle Relaxants

Used for: Back, head, and neck pain.

Examples: Cyclobenzaprine (Amrix) and metaxalone (Skelaxin).

What to try instead: There is scant evidence showing that those drugs work, so first try nondrug therapies such as a heating pad, exercise, biofeedback, physical therapy, progressive relaxation, massage, and yoga. You might also want to try an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil and generic) or naproxen (Aleve and generic). They also have been associated with dizziness, but it’s rare.


Used for: Angina (chest pain).

What to try instead: There is no substitute for nitroglycerin, but you can reduce your risk of dizziness by sitting down before taking it and remaining seated for up to 5 minutes afterward, says our Chief Medical Consultant, Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.

Pain Relievers

Used for: Pain.

Examples: Hydrocodone (an opioid) and over-the-counter ibuprofen and naproxen.

What to try instead: For everyday pain, try acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic).

Sleeping Pills

Used for: Insomnia.

Examples: Diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Unisom, Sominex), temazepam (Restoril), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and zolpidem (Ambien).

What to try instead: New treatment guidelines for insomnia suggest that type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy may work as well as or even better than sleeping pills. Also try improving your sleep by avoiding caffeine and alcohol after dinner and turning off computers and TV within 1 hour of bedtime.

Editor's Note: This article and related materials are made possible by a grant from the state Attorney General Consumer and Prescriber Education Grant Program, which is funded by the multistate settlement of consumer-fraud claims regarding the marketing of the prescription drug Neurontin (gabapentin).