What is low blood pressure?
Low blood pressure, also called hypotension, occurs when the force of the blood pushing against the walls of arteries is lower than it should be.
When this happens, the heart is not pushing the blood out with enough force for it to get to the entire body, and crucial organs may not receive an adequate blood flow.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There is a systolic and a diastolic measurement involved when calculating blood pressure.
The systolic measurement is the force of blood when the heart is contracting and the diastolic measurement is the force of blood when the heart is relaxed and the arteries are contracting. A normal blood pressure is somewhere around 120/80 mmHg.
Anything under 90/60 mmHg is considered hypotension.
There are a few different types of low blood pressure. Different types are given different names depending on causes and factors of hypotension. The different types are postural or orthostatic hypotension, postprandial hypotension, neurally medicated hypotension, and multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension.
Postural or orthostatic hypotension is a sudden drop in blood pressure that many people over 65 years old experience upon standing up from a sitting or lying down position.
It is commonly a result of various medications, especially antidepressants.
Neurally mediated hypotension is also a type of hypotension that occurs upon standing after sitting or lying down, but it is more common in young people.
It is suspected to be a miscommunication between the heart and brain. Nerves in the heart tell the brain that the body’s blood pressure is too high instead of too low, so the brain compensates by lowering the blood pressure even more.
Nervous Systen Damage
Multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension is low blood pressure due to nervous system damage. It is also called Shy-Drager syndrome. This disease causes damage to the body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The ANS controls most of the subconscious functions of the body, including blood pressure. The main characteristic of the disease is a severe drop in blood pressure upon standing as well as very high blood pressure when lying down.
Postprandial hypotension is a drop in blood pressure 30 to 75 minutes after eating a big meal. After eating big meals, a lot of blood is sent to the intestines to help with digestion and absorption and the body should compensate by increasing its cardiac output. If compensation does not occur, postprandial hypotension does.
What are common symptoms of low blood pressure?
Normally the thing to people worry about is hypertension, or high blood pressure. Low blood pressure does not seem all that dangerous, and if there are no symptoms of low blood pressure, it usually isn’t a problem. If symptoms are present, however, it can signal a bigger problem than just low blood pressure. Symptoms can vary from person to person.
Common symptoms are
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Other symptoms can be present but are usually caused by whatever is causing the low blood pressure, not the low blood pressure itself.
Those symptoms include
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular heartbeat
- High fever (above 101 °F)
- Foul smelling urine
- Stiff neck
- Temporary blurring or loss of vision
- Dysuria, which is painful urination
- Dysphagia, which is difficulty in swallowing
- Severe upper back pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Prolonged diarrhea or vomiting
What causes low blood pressure?
Hypotension can be caused by many different things.
Here is a list of the common causes
Pregnancy. Many women experience low blood pressure during pregnancy. This is usually normal and will generally return to a good pressure after they have given birth.
Heart Problems. If a person’s heart rate is extremely low, if they have heart valve problems, or have a history of heart attacks or heart failures, there is a good chance they will have a low blood pressure because the heart is not pumping efficiently enough to get a good blood supply everywhere.
Hormonal problems. If a person has an underactive or overactive thyroid, diabetes, or high or low blood sugar, they may experience hypotension.
Dehydration. Even a small amount of dehydration can have a negative effect on blood pressure.
Severe infection known as septicemia. Septicemia is what happens when an infection enters the bloodstream. It can cause low blood pressure.
Severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is caused by common triggers such as food, medications, insect venoms and latex. It is very severe and can be fatal.
Lack of nutrients in diet. Vitamin B12 and folate are essential nutrients that can cause anemia which causes low blood pressure.
Am I at risk for low blood pressure?
Certain people are more at risk for low blood pressure than others. Risk factors include age, medications, and certain diseases.
Age can play a part in hypotension. Adults over the age of 65 are more prone to orthostatic hypotension. Younger adults are more prone to neutrally mediated hypotension.
Certain medications can lower a person’s blood pressure. One situation where medication can cause low blood pressure is when a person overdoses on high blood pressure drugs. Believe it or not, too much of a medication meant to make blood pressure go up can actually make it go down.
Other medications that cause low blood pressure are beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers, angiotension-converting enzyme inhibitors, nitrates, drugs for Parkinson’s disease, antipsychotic drugs, neuroleptics, anti-anxiety agents, sedative-hypnotics, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Certain Diseases can also be risk factors for hypotension. Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and heart conditions can all cause low blood pressure.
What can I do to prevent low blood pressure?
There are many ways to prevent hypotension. A healthy diet can go a long way in helping to prevent low blood pressure. A diet rich in grains, vegetables, fruits and lean chicken and fish is great when dealing with and preventing this problem.
Small, low-carb meals many times during the day are better than three large meals. Also, limit alcohol consumption and drink lots of water. Salt is also a good way to moderate blood pressure. It is important to have enough salt, but not too much. Too much salt leads to high blood pressure, not enough salt leads to low blood pressure. It is crucial to get just the right amount.
How is low blood pressure diagnosed?
A doctor may run a few different tests when a patient shows signs of low blood pressure. His ultimate goal is to find out the underlying cause of the hypotension, which can be more serious than the hypotension itself. Here is a list of the tests a doctor may do:
Blood Pressure Test
The doctor will first do a blood pressure test. This test is a simple, routine test done by inflating a cuff on the upper arm and listening with a stethoscope to the brachial artery for the pressures when the heart is contracting and when it is relaxing. This pressure is shown on a pressure-measuring gage.
If the blood pressure test shows low blood pressure, the doctor may order blood tests. Blood tests will tell the doctor if the patient has high or low blood sugar or a low number of red blood cells. Any of those factors can be the reason for low blood pressure.
The doctor may also order a few tests that will analyze the heart of the patient, such as an electrocardiogram or an echocardiogram. Both are noninvasive tests, the first can detect irregularities in a heartbeat as well as any abnormalities of the heart and blood or oxygen supply problems with the heart. The echocardiogram is basically an ultrasound of the chest.
It shows an image of the heart’s structures and function. Both of these tests can tell the doctor if the heart is causing the low blood pressure. Another test done to test the heart is a stress test. It is often easier to diagnose a heart problem when the heart is working hard instead of when it is at rest. The patient will do some kind of exercise and may be given medication to make his or her heart work harder. The patient’s heart will then be monitored by an electrocardiogram or an echocardiograph, or by a blood pressure test.
This is also a noninvasive test which will check how well the autonomic nervous system is working. It analyzes the ANS by watching the heart rate and blood pressure after several cycles of deep breathing.
Tilt table test
Another test a doctor may do is the tilt table test. This is done if the patient has neurally mediated hypotension. During this test, the patient lies on a flat table that is then tilted so the upper part of the body is raised to simulate moving from a horizontal to standing position. This will evaluate how the patient’s body reacts to changes in position.
How can I treat low blood pressure at home?
If a patient is diagnosed with hypotension, there are many different ways to treat it. Some of the treatments are similar to the preventative measures taken, such as using more salt and drinking more water. A risk of increasing salt is that if it is increased too much, hypertension may occur. Altering the diet may be the cheapest and one of the easiest ways to treat low blood pressure, but it may not be the most effective.
Because a poor diet can cause low blood pressure, there are some supplements and herbs that can be taken to raise blood pressure. Vitamins B, C and E are all important to any diet, especially when trying to get a good blood pressure. Vitamin B plays a role in supporting the functions of adrenal gland. Only 300 mg/day of Vitamin B should be taken, anymore than that can cause problems.
Vitamin C helps to maintain the strength of the blood vessel walls. Too much vitamin C (more than 2000 mg/day) can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, kidney stones, and insomnia. Vitamin E helps to improve the supply of oxygen within the cellular machinery. Vitamin E in excess of 800 mg/day however, is suspected to raise the risk of death by 10%.
Strengthen Your Defense
If hypotension is caused by weak thyroid glands, there are some thing that can be taken to help strength them. The seaweed Kelp is one thing that helps the thyroid gland. If more than 2000 mcg/day is taken however, it can be harmful to the thyroid.
Bee pollen can help increase the functioning of all endocrine glands which will in turn raise blood pressure. Bee pollen does have side effects though and can induce nausea or an upset stomach, and some people can have an allergic reaction to it.
Most of these supplements and vitamins can be purchased for a fair price online or at a local drug store.
What herbs can I use to treat low blood pressure?
An herb that can increase the functioning of the endocrine glands is hyssop. When taken with kelp, blood pressure can be raised when the supplements stimulate the glands in the body and relieve other physical symptoms that come with hypotension. A side effect of hyssop is that it can cause nausea and diarrhea as well as dizziness in some people.
Another herb that can be taken is rosemary leaves. The leaves should be steeped in red wine, and one tablespoon can be taken every day to raise blood pressure.
Other herbs that can help are Siberian ginseng, the root of the goldenseal herb, the root of ginger, spirulina, and ginkgo biloba. To fortify the heart, supplements like the hawthorn berry and garlic can be taken. When the heart is fortified, it will in turn lower blood pressure. Any of these herbs can cause allergic reactions, have mild side effects, or react with other medications that are being taken.
Some of these herbs can be hard to find locally, but most can be purchased as supplements online for under $10 per bottle. When looking for fresh herbs, the price will be a little bit higher and harder to find.
How can I treat low blood pressure using medicine?
There are two types of drugs commonly used to regulate low blood pressure. They are Flurodrocortisone and Midodrine.
The drug fludrocortisone helps to boost the blood volume of the person suffering from low blood pressure which will then raise the blood pressure. Flurodrocortisone is a type of steroid which is derived from the hormones cortisol and aldosterone. This drug may decrease the body’s natural immune system and may make it easier for the patient to contract infections and disease.
It can alter moods, cause confusion, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It should not be stopped suddenly as the body grows used to having the drug and needs to be weaned off slowly. The drug can cause swelling, high blood pressure, headaches, low potassium levels, depression, weight gain, and many other side effects. Doctors should work with patients to be sure the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.
Midodrine is another drug that can be prescribed to help cure hypotension. It restricts the ability of blood vessels to expand, which raises blood pressure. Midodrine also has some side effects. Some people have allergic reactions to the drug which can cause a shortness of breath, hives, closing of the throat, swelling of the lips, face, or tongue, or a rash.
Another serious side effect is an irregular heartbeat. A doctor should be contacted immediately if either of those two things happens. Other less serious side effects are itching of the skin, increased need to urinate or difficulty urinating, felling of pressure inside the head, dryness of the mouth or anxiety.
Medication prices will vary depending on what type of insurance the person suffering from low blood pressure has. Generally, medications will be more expensive than natural remedies.