The Lowdown on Low Blood Pressure

Most people worry about having high blood pressure. For a few people, however, low blood pressure, or hypotension, is a major concern.

Current guidelines identify optimal blood pressure as less than 120/80.  The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute defines hypotension as a blood pressure lower than 90/60. There is no specific lower limit that is defined as unhealthy. Elderly people, however, may have symptoms of dizziness and lightheadedness when there blood pressure drops lower than usual. But the majority of people with blood pressure in the lower ranges are young and healthy, and have no symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), these are symptoms of low blood pressure:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Fainting

  • Lack of concentration

  • Blurred vision

  • Nausea

  • Cold, clammy, pale skin

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Unusual thirst

These are possible causes of low blood pressure:

  • Medications, including antianxiety drugs; heart medications; drugs for Parkinson's disease; tricyclic antidepressants; and sildenafil, particularly in combination with nitroglycerine; narcotics and alcohol, the AHA says. Other prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause low blood pressure when taken in combination with drugs for high blood pressure.

  • Postural hypotension, or a sudden decrease in pressure that occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down. This can cause dizziness, blurred vision, and fainting.

  • Heart problems, including an abnormally low heart rate, heart attack, and heart failure.

  • Dehydration, shock, advanced diabetes, and thyroid problems.

Treatment

Many healthy people who do have chronically low blood pressure and no symptoms require no treatment. Most people with chronic low blood pressure who have symptoms can be safely treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

The following actions may help control the problem:

  • Drink more water and avoid alcohol as it can be dehydrating.

  • Slow down. You may be able to reduce lightheadedness by taking it easy when you move from a prone to a standing position. Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning, for instance, sit up on the edge before standing and wiggle your feet and move your legs. This will get your heart rate up and increase circulation.

 

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