Most of us are familiar with high blood pressure (hypertension) and how that can impact your health detrimentally. But what do you know about low blood pressure (hypotension) and its effects on your health?
What exactly is low blood pressure?
Normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mmHg. When the pressure in your heart drops below 90mmHg systolic (the pressure in your arteries during contraction of the heart muscle) and 60mmHg diastolic (the pressure in your arteries between beats) then you’re considered to have low blood pressure.
However, as Gabriel Eksteen, dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa points out, these numbers don’t necessarily mean you should be alarmed. “Remember that blood pressure readings can be affected by the time of day, your stress levels, exercise and your fitness levels, temperature, and the last meal you had,” says Eksteen.
In the same way high blood pressure can be an indication of heart problems, so too can low blood blood pressure. Due to the fact that low blood pressure means that less oxygen gets transported through your veins, chronic low blood pressure can also lead to neurological problems when the brain is starved of much-needed oxygen.
When should you worry about low blood pressure?
“As long as you’re not experiencing symptoms of low blood pressure, there is no need for concern. Most doctors consider chronically low blood pressure dangerous only if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms,” explains Eksteen.
These symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Cold, clammy and pale skin
- Nose bleeds
- Dehydration and unusual thirst. Dehydration can cause your blood pressure to drop, but it may not necessarily mean you have hypotension.
The top causes of low blood pressure
- Anaphylaxis (a sometimes-fatal allergic reaction)
- Decreases in blood volume due to, for example, major trauma, dehydration or severe internal bleeding
- Endocrine conditions, including underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), Addison’s disease and even diabetes.
- Heart problems, such as heart failure and heart attack
- Medications, including diuretics and other medications that treat hypertension, heart medications, Parkinson’s disease medicine, tricyclic antidepressants, erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs, alcohol and narcotics.
- Neurally mediated hypotension (a miscommunication between the brain and heart which leads to low blood pressure)
- Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of vitamin B12 and folic acid causes anaemia, which can lead to low blood pressure.
- Pregnancy: It’s common for blood pressure to drop in the first 24 weeks.
- Prolonged bed rest
- Septic shock (a life-threatening condition that happens when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level after a severe infection)
What can you do to treat low blood pressure?
While there may be short-term solutions, how you treat low blood pressure ultimately depends on what is causing it, explains Eksteen. “In the short-term, sitting or lying down, elevating the legs, drinking water and eating something salty can help to bring blood pressure back up. Long-term treatment will obviously depend on the reason for low blood pressure and will be need to be directed by a medical professional.”
Changes to your diet may also help alleviate the symptoms of low blood pressure in certain instances. “In some people, low blood pressure can be triggered after a meal when blood rushes to the gut, reducing the blood flow in the rest of the body's circulation. Smaller, frequent meals can help here,” says Eksteen.
It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly, and should you have any concern regarding your blood pressure, give your doctor a call.
Get your blood pressure checked at a Clicks Clinic
If you would like to get your blood pressure checked, book an appointment at a Clicks Clinic.