Hypotension (low blood pressure)

Low blood pressure occurs when the blood pressure in your arteries is low. Our hearts pump blood around our bodies through arteries, veins and capillaries, and blood pressure is an indicator of the force of the blood on the artery walls. It fluctuates, depending on time of day, age, temperature, medication, injury or illnesses. 

A woman having her blood pressure taken by a nurse

There are many causes of low blood pressure, such as: 

It is also common during pregnancy. Low blood pressure may also be genetic, according to some research. 

What are its symptoms?

A blood pressure reading under 90/60 is considered low. It’s unlikely to cause any symptoms and is normally not dangerous. Within certain limits, the lower your blood pressure is, the better. 

However, if it drops too low, it can restrict the amount of blood, oxygen and nutrients flowing to your brain and other vital organs, causing unsteadiness, dizziness, fainting. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Palpitations
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • General fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Depression
  • Clammy, pale skin
  • Dehydration and unusual thirst
  • Nose bleeds

How is it diagnosed? 

The aim in testing for low blood pressure is to find the underlying cause. This determines treatment and identifies any heart, brain or nervous system problems that may be the reason for low readings. 

Low blood pressure can easily be diagnosed by a reading of your blood pressure. You may need further tests to determine the underlying cause. Healthy adults aged over 40 should have their blood pressure checked at least once every five years.

Tests include:

  • Blood pressure test
  • Blood tests
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram
  • Stress test

What are your treatment options?

Your doctor will first need to identify the cause of the low blood pressure before recommending any remedies. This usually includes healthy lifestyle advice and treating any underlying cause of the condition rather than low blood pressure itself. If it’s not clear what’s causing your low pressure, your doctor will aim to help you raise your blood pressure and reduce signs and symptoms. You will not need treatment if you have no symptoms. 

Depending on your age, health status and the type of low blood pressure you have, you can do this in several ways:

  • Drink more water
  • Consume salt
  • Limit alcohol
  • Wear compression stockings 

Several medications can be used to treat low blood pressure that occurs when you stand up (orthostatic hypotension). 

Can it be prevented? 

You can take certain steps to prevent low blood pressure. These include:

  • Exercise to promote blood flow
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Be careful when rising from lying down or sitting – do it slowly
  • Avoid heavy lifting
  • Avoid straining on the toilet
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to hot water
  • Try eating small meals more frequently

For more information, contact the South African Heat and Stroke Foundation.

Get tested at your Clicks Clinic

Contact your nearest Clicks Clinic here to arrange an appointment to have your blood pressure checked.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

The accuracy of this information was checked and approved by physician Dr Thomas Blake in July 2016