What Happens When You Have Hypotension?
Hypotension is blood pressure low enough (less than 90/60) that the flow of blood to the key organs is inadequate. Usually, low pressure alone is not unhealthy, but it certainly becomes a cause of worry if it symptomizes as clammy skin, blurry vision, dizziness, or is linked to a health condition like heart disease. Its most severe and fatal form is shock (stroke/heart attack).
A simple mention of blood pressure medication is enough to make your friends think that you are under high stress and struggling with a rising sphygmomanometer reading. Who can blame them? The blood pressure topic typically brings high blood pressure (hypertension) to mind. We also tend to assume that low blood pressure is a good thing. However, this is far from the truth, and it can be just as dangerous. Low blood pressure could be behind those mysterious fleeting moments of weakness or dizziness. Fortunately, understanding hypotension can also help you control it.
What Is Hypotension?
Hypotension is the medical term for abnormally low blood pressure. A normal pressure reading is around 120/80 (systolic pressure/diastolic pressure). When the heart is actively pumping blood, blood fills the arteries and the pressure is at its highest, giving us the systolic reading. This is the top number. When the heart is resting between beats, we get the diastolic reading, the bottom number. Anything below 90/60 is a sign of low blood pressure. This means that your heart is failing to pump blood at the ideal force.
How Does Low Blood Pressure Feel?
Is a low pressure reading a cause for concern? Not for all folks. Some people have a naturally low blood pressure (chronic asymptomatic hypotension) and are perfectly healthy. It’s their “normal.” A low blood pressure only becomes a cause for worry if it triggers undesirable symptoms or is linked to a serious health condition like heart disease.1
For many, a fall in blood pressure may be unsettling and can disrupt their normal function. Symptoms include dizziness, sweaty or clammy skin, blurry vision, fatigue, and nausea. It’s common for someone with hypotension to feel giddy when they make a sudden movement, such as getting up from a chair or out of bed. This is known as orthostatic or postural hypotension and happens when blood flow and pressure don’t adjust fast enough to the sudden change in position. During this time, organs and muscles aren’t receiving enough blood. And while this can happen very quickly, it will settle down by taking a few minutes to rest and let blood pressure return to normal.
Neurally mediated hypotension is similar but occurs when a person has been standing for a prolonged period of time. It can also happen in a scary, upsetting situation. Again, this doesn’t last long and sitting down and resting can quickly dissipate it.
The most dangerous form is severe hypotension, involving shock and loss of consciousness. This may be caused by a traumatic experience, causing heavy blood loss or heart failure. The pressure might drop so low that vital organs – such as the kidneys, heart, and brain – don’t get enough blood and malfunction. The visible signs are sweating, cold limbs, breathing difficulties, and severe distress. This can be fatal, emphasizing the need for immediate medical attention.2
Do You Have Low Blood Pressure?
Any factor that disturbs the body’s mechanism of controlling blood flow places the body at risk of hypotension.
Orthostatic hypotension can be triggered by dehydration, heart disease, infections, or anemia. It can even occur during pregnancy. Diuretics and medication for anxiety or depression can also increase the risk of hypotension. It can also be a result of alcoholism, prolonged bed rest, or one of the following conditions: Parkinson’s, dementia, anemia, and B12 deficiency.3It’s also common among senior citizens due to an overall slowing of bodily functions linked to aging. Ever notice how your grandpa looks like he’s about to nod off after a hearty meal? This is a prime example of postprandial hypotension, where you feel light-headed or dizzy because of a sudden drop in blood pressure after eating.4
Neurally mediated hypotension is like a miscommunication between the brain and heart. Large periods of stillness, like sitting in a car for too long, can cause blood to pool in the legs. The body mistakes this for high blood pressure (instead of low) and tells the brain to slow things down. The result? Typical signs of hypotension due to the sheer lack of movement. Ultimately, staying in the same position for a long time is a risky move. Try your best to shift positions and be active – a few simple stretches can do the trick.
While orthostatic hypotension is more common among older adults, neurally mediated hypotension is seen more often in children and younger adults.5Neurally mediated hypotension is found to be closely linked to chronic fatigue syndrome and is often considered a symptom of the latter.6
Shock-related severe hypotension usually isn’t in your control. It is caused a specific event like a severe head injury, poisoning, allergic reaction, or heart attack. These incidences can be fatal and immediate medical help is critical. Additionally, hypotension due to septic shock or severe sepsis needs antibiotic treatment within an hour.7
Reduce The Reasons
Now that you know about the different types of hypotension, it’s time to crack down on how you can prevent (or minimize) overall risk.
Orthostatic hypotension and neurally mediated hypotension may require simple lifestyle changes:
- Drink more (non-alcoholic!) fluids and stay hydrated. Fuel up on at least 6–8 cups of water or other low-calorie drinks.
- Stand up slowly and avoid sudden jerks in movement.
- Eat small, low-carb meals for postprandial hypotension.
- Avoid triggering situations like scary or upsetting movies, places, or scenarios.
- Wear compression stockings to maintain the blood pressure in your legs. These stockings help blood move smoothly throughout your body.
- Increase salt intake for orthostatic hypotension. Under medical guidance, you can consume about 10–20 g of salt per day.8
- Eat foods that stabilize the body. Examples include soaked raisins, soaked almonds with milk, carrot juice, basil leaves, and even caffeine drinks.9and10
Remember, shock-related severe hypotension is a life-threatening emergency. Call a doctor and try to maintain the blood flow to organs. When possible, remove the source of the shock immediately.11
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||What Is Hypotension? National Institutes of Health.|
|2, 5.||↑||What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Hypotension? US Library of Medicine.|
|3.||↑||Postural hypotension, CDC.|
|4.||↑||Lipsitz, Lewis A. “Orthostatic hypotension in the elderly.” New England Journal of Medicine 321, no. 14 (1989): 952-957.|
|6.||↑||Wilke, W. S., Fetnat M. Fouad-Tarazi, Joseph M. Cash, and Leonard H. Calabrese. “The connection between chronic fatigue syndrome and neurally mediated hypotension.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 65, no. 5 (1998): 261-266.|
|7.||↑||Mok, Katie, Michael D. Christian, Sandra Nelson, and Lisa Burry. “Time to administration of antibiotics among inpatients with severe sepsis or septic shock.” The Canadian journal of hospital pharmacy 67, no. 3 (2014).|
|8.||↑||Figueroa, Juan J., Jeffrey R. Basford, and Phillip A. Low. “Preventing and treating orthostatic hypotension: as easy as A, B, C.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 77, no. 5 (2010): 298.|
|9.||↑||Williamson, Gary, and Arianna Carughi. “Polyphenol content and health benefits of raisins.” Nutrition Research 30, no. 8 (2010): 511-519.|
|10.||↑||Stansbury, Jill, Paul Saunders, David Winston, and Eugene R. Zampieron. “Treating Adrenal Insufficiency and Hypotension with Glycyrrhiza.” Journal of Restorative Medicine 1, no. 1 (2012): 102-106.|
|11.||↑||How Is Hypotension Treated? National Institutes of Health.|