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Low Blood Pressure

Definition

Low blood pressure, also called hypotension, would seem to be something to strive for. However, for many people, low blood pressure can cause symptoms of dizziness and fainting. In severe cases, low blood pressure can be life-threatening.

Although blood pressure varies from person to person, a blood pressure reading of 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or less systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) or 60 mm Hg or less diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) is generally considered low blood pressure.

Symptoms

For some people, low blood pressure can signal an underlying problem, especially when it drops suddenly or is accompanied by signs and symptoms such as:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Thirst

When to see a doctor

Mostly low blood pressure is not serious, but at times it might require to see a doctor

Causes

Some medical conditions can cause low blood pressure. These include:

Pregnancy. Because a woman's circulatory system expands rapidly during pregnancy, blood pressure is likely to drop. During the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, systolic pressure commonly drops by five to 10 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by as much as 10 to 15 mm Hg. This is normal, and blood pressure usually returns to your pre-pregnancy level after you've given birth.

Heart Problems. Some heart conditions that can lead to low blood pressure include extremely low heart rate (bradycardia), heart valve problems, heart attack and heart failure. These conditions may cause low blood pressure because they prevent your body from being able to circulate enough blood.

Endocrine problems. An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)  can cause low blood pressure. In addition, other conditions, such as adrenal insufficiency (Addison's disease), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and, in some cases, diabetes, can trigger low blood pressure.

Dehydration. When you become dehydrated, your body loses more water than it takes in. Even mild dehydration can cause weakness, dizziness and fatigue. Fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, overuse of diuretics and strenuous exercise can all lead to dehydration.

Blood loss. Losing a lot of blood from a major injury or internal bleeding reduces the amount of blood in your body, leading to a severe drop in blood pressure.

Severe infection (septicemia). Septicemia can happen when an infection in the body enters the bloodstream. These conditions can lead to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure called septic shock.

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Common triggers of anaphylaxis include foods, certain medications, insect venoms and latex. Anaphylaxis can cause breathing problems, hives, itching, a swollen throat and a drop in blood pressure.

Lack of nutrients in your diet. A lack of the vitamins B-12 and folate can cause anemia, a condition in which your body doesn't produce enough red blood cells, causing low blood pressure.

Treatment & Drugs

If it's not clear what's causing low blood pressure or no effective treatment exists, the goal is to raise your blood pressure and reduce signs and symptoms. Depending on your age, health status and the type of low blood pressure you have, you can do this in several ways:

Use more salt. Experts usually recommend limiting the amount of salt in your diet because sodium can raise blood pressure, sometimes dramatically. For people with low blood pressure, that can be a good thing. But because excess sodium can lead to heart failure, especially in older adults, it's important to check with your doctor before increasing the salt in your diet.

Drink more water. Although nearly everyone can benefit from drinking enough water, this is especially true if you have low blood pressure. Fluids increase blood volume and help prevent dehydration, both of which are important in treating hypotension.

Wear compression stockings. The same elastic stockings commonly used to relieve the pain and swelling of varicose veins may help reduce the pooling of blood in your legs.

Medications. Several medications, either used alone or together, can be used to treat low blood pressure that occurs when you stand up (orthostatic hypotension). For example, the drug fludrocortisone is often used to treat this form of low blood pressure.

Lifestyle & Home Remedies

Depending on the reason for your low blood pressure, you may be able to take certain steps to help reduce or even prevent symptoms. Some suggestions include:

Drink more water, less alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating and can lower blood pressure, even if you drink in moderation. Water, on the other hand, combats dehydration and increases blood volume.

Follow a healthy diet. Get all the nutrients you need for good health by focusing on a variety of foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean chicken and fish. If your doctor suggests using more salt but you don't like a lot of salt on your food, try using natural soy sauce or adding dry soup mixes to dips and dressings.

Go slowly when changing body positions. You may be able to reduce the dizziness and lightheadedness that occur with low blood pressure on standing by taking it easy when you move from a prone to a standing position. Before getting out of bed in the morning, breathe deeply for a few minutes and then slowly sit up before standing.

Eat small, low-carb meals. To help prevent blood pressure from dropping sharply after meals, eat small portions several times a day and limit high-carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta and bread.


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