Low blood pressure, also known as hypotension, it is a condition in which a blood pressure reading in the arteries is lower than normal. Generally, a blood pressure reading of 90/60 mmHg or below is considered low, although the severity of symptoms may differ from person to person. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, blurred vision, and nausea. Various factors, including medication side effects, dehydration, and underlying medical conditions such as heart problems or endocrine disorders, can cause it.
Causes of Low Blood Pressure
Multiple reasons can be associated with low blood pressure. Some of the many potential causes of low blood pressure include:
Dehydration causes low blood pressure:
When the body loses too much fluid, such as excessive sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea, it can cause a decrease in blood volume and a drop blood pressure. This is because there is less fluid in the blood vessels, which makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood in the body. Dehydration can also cause a decrease in electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which are essential for maintaining proper blood pressure.
Blood loss leading to hypotension:
Loss of blood due to injury, surgery, or internal bleeding can also cause a drop in blood pressure. This is because there is less blood circulating in the body, which means less pressure against the walls of the blood vessels.
Medications causing low blood pressure:
Some medications, such as diuretics (which increase urine output), beta-blockers (which slow the heart rate), and certain antidepressants, can cause low blood pressure as a side effect. This is because these medications can affect the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure.
Heart problems leading to low blood pressure:
Certain heart conditions, such as bradycardia (a slow heart rate) and heart failure, can lead to low blood pressure. In bradycardia, the heart beats too slowly to pump adequate blood, whereas in heart failure, the heart can not pump enough blood to meet the body’s requirements.
Endocrine problems leading to hypotension:
Disorders of the endocrine system, such as Addison’s disease (a condition in which the adrenal glands do not produce enough hormones), hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland), and diabetes, can cause low blood pressure. This is because hormones play an essential role in regulating blood pressure.
Allergic reactions and hypotension:
Severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis, can cause a dramatic and sudden drop in blood pressure. This is because the body releases histamine, which causes the blood vessels to dilate (widen), decreasing blood pressure.
Infection causing low blood pressure:
Severe infections like sepsis can cause low blood pressure. This is because the body’s response to the disease can cause the blood vessels to dilate, leading to a decrease in blood pressure.
Genetic factors associated with low blood pressure:
Some people may have a genetic predisposition to low blood pressure. For example, some families may have a history of low blood pressure, which suggests a genetic component.
Hypotension in Pregnancy:
Low blood pressure is standard, especially in the first trimester. This is because the body produces more blood to support the growing fetus, which can lead to a drop in blood pressure.
Nutritional deficiencies causing low blood pressure:
A lack of essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and folic acid, can lead to low blood pressure. This is because these nutrients are necessary to maintain the blood vessels’ health and regulate blood pressure.
It is essential to note that some people may experience low blood pressure without any apparent cause, and in these cases, it may be referred to as idiopathic hypotension. In these cases, the underlying cause may be difficult to determine, and treatment may focus on managing the symptoms of low blood pressure.
Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure
The symptoms of low blood pressure can vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause, but some common symptoms include the following:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
These symptoms are among the most common signs of low blood pressure. When your blood pressure drops, your brain may not be getting enough blood flow, which can cause you to feel dizzy or lightheaded.
- Fainting or passing out
If your blood pressure drops suddenly and significantly, you may lose consciousness. This is called syncope, and it can be a severe symptom of low blood pressure.
- Blurred vision
When your blood pressure is low, it can affect blood flow to your eyes, which can cause blurry vision or difficulty focusing.
- Nausea or vomiting
Low blood pressure can cause nausea or vomiting because it can affect blood flow to your digestive system.
- Fatigue or weakness
If your blood pressure is too low, your body may not get enough oxygen and nutrients, which can cause you to feel tired or weak.
- Rapid or shallow breathing
Low blood pressure can cause rapid or shallow breathing because your body may be trying to compensate for the lack of oxygen.
- Cold, clammy, or pale skin
When your blood pressure drops, your body may not get enough blood flow, which can cause your skin to feel cold, clammy, or pale.
- Rapid or weak pulse
Low blood pressure can cause your heart rate to speed up or slow down, and your pulse may feel weak or difficult to detect.
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating.
When your brain isn’t getting enough blood flow, it can affect your cognitive function, causing confusion, difficulty concentrating, or even fainting.
It is important to note that some people may have chronic low blood pressure without experiencing any symptoms. In contrast, others may experience symptoms only in certain situations (such as when standing up quickly or during periods of physical exertion).
Types of Low Blood Pressure
There are several types of low blood pressure, including:
This is also known as postural hypotension, when a sudden drop in blood pressure occurs upon standing up from a sitting or lying position. This can be due to various causes, such as dehydration, prolonged bed rest, or certain medications. Orthostatic hypotension can cause symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting, and it can be more common in older adults.
Neurally mediated hypotension
This type of low blood pressure occurs due to a miscommunication between the heart and the brain, which causes blood vessels to widen and blood pressure to drop. It often occurs after standing for prolonged periods or in crowded areas and can cause symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, or nausea.
This sudden and severe drop in blood pressure can be life-threatening. It can be caused by septic shock, anaphylaxis, or severe bleeding. Symptoms include confusion, rapid or weak pulse, cold or clammy skin, and loss of consciousness. Severe hypotension requires emergency medical treatment.
This low blood pressure happens after eating, particularly in older adults. It is caused by blood flowing to the digestive system after a meal, which can cause blood pressure to drop. Symptoms can include dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting.
Low blood pressure due to medications
Certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, diuretics, and some antidepressants, can cause low blood pressure as a side effect.
Diagnosis of Low Blood Pressure
It is essential to diagnose low blood pressure because it can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that may require treatment. In some cases, low blood pressure can indicate a severe or life-threatening illness, such as sepsis or anaphylaxis.
If left untreated, low blood pressure can lead to inadequate blood flow to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidneys, which can result in organ damage or failure.
Some medications used to treat high blood pressure or other medical conditions can also cause low blood pressure as a side effect. If left untreated, low blood pressure caused by medications can cause symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, or confusion, which can be dangerous or impair one’s ability to perform daily activities.
By diagnosing the underlying cause of low blood pressure, healthcare providers can develop an appropriate treatment plan to manage the condition and prevent complications. Treatment may include lifestyle modifications, medications, or management of any underlying medical conditions contributing to low blood pressure.
Physical exams can help diagnose low blood pressure (hypotension) because they can assess the patient’s overall health and identify any underlying medical conditions contributing to the low blood pressure. During a physical exam, the healthcare provider will typically measure the patient’s blood pressure in several different positions, such as lying down, sitting, and standing, to evaluate for orthostatic hypotension.
In addition to assessing blood pressure, the healthcare provider may perform a detailed neurological exam to evaluate for any signs of nerve damage or dysfunction contributing to the low blood pressure. They may also check the patient’s heart rate and rhythm, listen to the patient’s heart and lungs, and palpate the patient’s abdomen to assess for any signs of organ damage or dysfunction.
While blood tests can provide helpful information in diagnosing low blood pressure, they are typically used in conjunction with other diagnostic tests, like physical exams and blood pressure monitoring, to evaluate the patient’s overall health.
Blood tests may be ordered to help identify any underlying medical conditions contributing to low blood pressure. For example, a complete blood count (CBC) can evaluate for anemia, which can cause low blood pressure. A basic metabolic panel (BMP) or comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) can assess the patient’s kidneys and liver function, which can be crucial in evaluating underlying medical conditions contributing to low blood pressure.
Some of the blood tests are mentioned below
Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC can help detect anemia, a common cause of hypotension. Anemia is when the body does not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen.
Electrolyte panel: An electrolyte panel measures the levels of various electrolytes in the blood, such as sodium, potassium, and chloride. Electrolytes play an essential role in maintaining blood pressure and fluid balance, and imbalances in these levels can cause hypotension.
Kidney function tests: Hypotension can sometimes be caused by kidney problems like kidney disease. Kidney function tests, such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels, can help evaluate the function of the kidneys.
Thyroid function tests: Hypotension can be a symptom of an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Thyroid function tests, such as thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) levels, can help evaluate thyroid function.
Blood glucose: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause hypotension. A blood glucose test can help evaluate blood sugar levels.
Lipid panel: High cholesterol levels can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can affect blood flow and contribute to hypotension.
C-reactive protein (CRP): Elevated levels of CRP in the blood can be a sign of inflammation, which can contribute to hypotension.
Orthostatic Blood Pressure Test
The orthostatic blood pressure test is a simple diagnostic test that can diagnose low blood pressure (hypotension). During the test, the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are measured while lying down and then again after standing up for a specified period.
The orthostatic blood pressure test is typically performed in a healthcare provider’s office or clinic. To perform the test, the patient lies on a table or exam bed for several minutes to stabilize their blood pressure and heart rate. The healthcare provider then measures the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate.
Next, the patient stands up and remains standing for a specified period, typically 1-5 minutes, while their blood pressure and heart rate are monitored. Suppose the patient experiences a significant drop in blood pressure upon standing. In that case, it may indicate a diagnosis of orthostatic hypotension, a type of low blood pressure that occurs when the blood pressure drops upon standing up.
The orthostatic blood pressure test is a useful diagnostic tool for evaluating low blood pressure. It can help differentiate between various types of low blood pressure and identify any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to low blood pressure. It is typically used with other diagnostic tests, such as physical exams and blood tests, to evaluate the patient’s overall health and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
Tilt Table Test
The tilt table test is another diagnostic test that can be used to diagnose low blood pressure (hypotension), particularly in cases of syncope (fainting) or suspected neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS). During the test, the patient is placed on a unique table that can be tilted to different angles while their blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs are monitored.
To perform the tilt table test, the patient is secured to the table and connected to monitors that measure their blood pressure and heart rate. The table is then tilted to an upright position, typically at a 60 to 80-degree angle, and the patient’s vital signs are monitored for up to 45 minutes. If the patient experiences a significant drop in blood pressure or faints during the test, it may indicate a diagnosis of hypotension or NCS.
The tilt table test is a useful diagnostic tool for evaluating low blood pressure. It can help differentiate between various types of low blood pressure and identify any underlying medical conditions that may contribute to it. It is typically used with other diagnostic tests, such as physical exams and blood tests, to evaluate the patient’s overall health and develop an appropriate treatment plan. The tilt table test is generally considered safe, but like any medical test, it does carry a small risk of complications, such as fainting, dizziness, or nausea.
Treatment of Low Blood Pressure
The treatment of low blood pressure (hypotension) depends on the condition’s underlying cause. If the low blood pressure is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as dehydration, heart disease, or diabetes, treating the underlying condition may help to alleviate the low blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes can be an effective way to help treat low blood pressure, particularly in orthostatic hypotension or mild hypotension that is not caused by an underlying medical condition. Some lifestyle changes that can help to alleviate low blood pressure include:
- Staying hydrated
Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water, can help to maintain blood volume and prevent dehydration, which can contribute to low blood pressure.
- Compression stockings
Support stockings help improve circulation towards the heart. These are also worn for the treatment of varicose veins.
- Increasing salt intake
Adding a little extra salt to your diet can help to increase blood volume and raise blood pressure. However, it’s important not to consume too much salt, as excessive salt intake can harm your health.
- Eating a balanced diet
A healthy, balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help maintain overall health and support cardiovascular function, which can help alleviate low blood pressure.
- Avoiding alcohol
Alcohol can cause blood vessels to dilate and contribute to dehydration, leading to low blood pressure.
- Standing up slowly
Standing up slowly from a seated or lying position can help to prevent sudden drops in blood pressure, particularly in cases of orthostatic hypotension.
Regular physical activity can help to maintain cardiovascular health and improve blood flow, which can help to alleviate low blood pressure. However, consulting a healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise program is essential.
Medications for Hypotension
It’s important to note that the appropriate medication for low blood pressure will depend on the condition’s underlying cause, and drugs should only be used after consultation with a doctor. In some cases, over the counter medicines may not be necessary, and lifestyle changes may be sufficient to alleviate low blood pressure. Working with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate treatment plan for your individual needs is essential.
Some medications that may be used to treat low blood pressure include:
This medication helps to increase the amount of salt and fluid in the body, which can help to increase blood volume and raise blood pressure.
This medication constricts the blood vessels and helps to increase blood flow, which can help to raise blood pressure.
This medication is often used to treat orthostatic hypotension, as it helps to improve nerve signals that control blood pressure and blood flow.
This medication is a stimulant that can help to increase blood pressure. Still, it should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare provider, as it can have potentially serious side effects.
- Fludarabine: This medication is a chemotherapy drug that may be used to treat certain types of cancer. However, it has also increased blood pressure in some people with hypotension.
Intravenous (IV) Fluids
Intravenous (IV) fluids may treat low blood pressure, particularly in dehydration or fluid loss cases. IV fluids can help to increase blood volume and improve circulation, which can help to raise blood pressure. In some cases, IV fluids may also be used with other medications to treat low blood pressure.
IV fluids are administered directly into a vein, and the type and amount of fluid used will depend on the individual’s needs and the underlying cause of their low blood pressure. In some cases, isotonic fluids, such as normal saline or lactated Ringer’s solution, may replenish lost fluids and increase blood volume. In other instances, hypertonic fluids, such as 3% saline, may help draw fluid back into the bloodstream from the tissues and organs.
IV fluids are typically administered in a hospital or clinical setting, and healthcare providers will closely monitor the individual’s vital signs and fluid balance.
Surgery is not a standard treatment for low blood pressure, as it is typically reserved for cases where the condition is caused by an underlying medical issue that requires surgical intervention. For example, if a malfunctioning heart valve causes an individual’s low blood pressure, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the valve.
Sometimes, a surgical procedure known as a sympathectomy may be performed to treat certain types of low blood pressure. This procedure involves removing or disabling nerves in the sympathetic nervous system, which can help to increase blood pressure. Sympathectomies are most often used to treat severe or refractory low blood pressure cases that have not responded to other forms of treatment.
It’s important to note that surgery is typically considered a last resort in treating low blood pressure, and it should only be considered when other forms of treatment have not been effective.
When is Low Blood Pressure an Emergency?
Low blood pressure (hypotension) can be an emergency in certain situations, mainly if it causes severe or life-threatening symptoms. Here are some situations where low blood pressure may be considered an emergency:
Blood pressure drops suddenly and severely
A significant and sudden drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, or shock, which can be life-threatening.
Symptoms are severe or persistent.
It may be a medical emergency if low blood pressure causes severe symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion, or difficulty speaking. Blood pressure drops during surgery or other medical procedures.
If blood pressure drops suddenly during surgery or other medical procedures, it can be an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
Blood pressure drops due to severe infection.
Low blood pressure caused by a severe infection, such as sepsis, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Blood pressure drops due to an allergic reaction. Low blood pressure caused by a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) occurs when the force of blood flowing through the arteries is lower than usual. Various factors, including dehydration, medications, and underlying medical conditions, can cause this condition. Signs of low blood pressure may include dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, or blurred vision. Diagnosis of low blood pressure typically involves a physical exam, blood tests, and other diagnostic tests. Treatment options for the low blood pressure may include lifestyle modifications, medications, intravenous fluids, or surgery. Prevention of low blood pressure involves staying hydrated, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, and taking medications as prescribed. In some cases, low blood pressure can be a medical emergency; at once, medical attention is necessary.
Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment
Early diagnosis and treatment of low blood pressure (hypotension) are essential to prevent complications and improve overall health and quality of life.
Left untreated, it can cause symptoms like dizziness, fainting, confusion, and even serious health problems such as organ damage or shock. In severe cases, low blood pressure may be life-threatening.
Through early diagnosis, healthcare providers can identify the underlying cause of low blood pressure and develop a treatment plan tailored to the individual. Treatment may involve lifestyle modifications such as increasing fluid and salt intake or blood pressure-raising medications.
Prompt treatment can help manage symptoms, improve blood pressure levels, and reduce the risk of complications.
FAQs about Hypotension(low blood pressure) Answered by Your Doctors Online Team.
Blood pressure that is significantly lower than usual may be considered dangerously low. Generally, a blood pressure reading of 90/60 mm Hg or below is considered low. Still, the threshold for “dangerously low” blood pressure varies depending on factors such as age, overall health, and medical history.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) can make you tired. This is because when your blood pressure is low, your body may not get enough blood and oxygen to your organs and tissues, including your brain. This can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, and fatigue.
Low blood pressure can sometimes cause a person to feel faint or even pass out (syncope), especially when they stand up quickly after sitting or lying down. This is known as orthostatic hypotension, caused by factors such as dehydration, prolonged bed rest, or certain medications.
The lowest blood pressure considered safe can vary depending on age, overall health, and medical history. In general, a blood pressure reading that is too low can be a cause for concern, especially if it is accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
American Heart Association states a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. A blood pressure reading between 90/60 mm Hg and 120/80 mm Hg is generally considered low standard and may not necessarily indicate a health problem. However, if a person’s blood pressure consistently falls below 90/60 mm Hg, they may be diagnosed with hypotension (low blood pressure).
While a blood pressure reading of 90/60 mm Hg or lower is not necessarily dangerous in and of itself, it can be a sign of an underlying health condition that a healthcare provider should evaluate.