What Does Low Blood Pressure Mean?

Most people know that high blood pressure is harmful and so low blood pressure would be preferred! While this is true, it all depends on how low the blood pressure drops to. If the blood pressure drops below 90/60, most people will develop symptoms of fainting and dizziness. In fact, if the blood pressure is less than 80/45, it can be life threatening.

Normal blood pressure is said to be around 120/80 but it does vary by a few points from person to person. In general when the blood pressure is less than 90 mmHg (top reading) and 60 mmHg (lower reading), doctors consider this to be low blood pressure, especially if they have symptoms.

There are many causes of low blood pressure ranging from simple dehydration to serious infections and bleeding. When you have low blood pressure it is important to determine the cause, as in most cases, it can be treated.

Over the course of the day, the blood pressure may drop by a few points depending on the temperature, body position, state of hydration, whether you are awake or asleep, use of any medications, stress and what you have eaten. Overall, blood pressure tends to be low when you go to sleep at night and then gradually increases during the day.

As with hypertension, low blood pressure also falls into different classifications. They include:

  • Orthostatic Hypotension. This is also known as postural hypotension. It occurs when you suddenly stand up from a sitting or lying down position. This type of low blood pressure may be due to medications and is more common in the elderly. Orthostatic hypotension can present when you first get out of bed and may be associated with dizziness or feeling faint.
  • Postprandial Hypotension. Generally this usually occurs after eating a meal. It’s triggered by the large amount of food in the stomach which drains blood to help with the digestion. Postprandial hypotension usually occurs in seniors and may last several hours. It is also known to occur in Parkinson disease. The way to avoid this is to eat small meals several times a day.
  • Neurally Mediated Hypotension. This tends to occur in young people. It occurs because there is miscommunication between the brain and the heart. For example, when a person has been standing still in hot weather and the blood pools in the legs. The individual can fall, develop nausea or dizziness.

Low blood pressure can also occur in people suffering from nerve damage conditions such as Multiple System Atrophy, formerly known Shy-Drager syndrome. In this disorder there is a disconnection between the nerves in the legs and the heart. Consequently blood pools in the leg, which results in low blood pressure.


What Are The Signs Of Low Blood Pressure?

Unlike high blood pressure that usually does not present with any obvious signs or symptoms, low blood pressure is the opposite. Most people who have low blood pressure will have the following symptoms:

  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy. If the blood pressure is very low, the person can even fall down.
  • Fainting (syncope) is quite common. This is often more common when the person has been standing still for a few minutes.
  • Unable to focus and concentrate
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Skin will feel cold and clammy
  • The individual will appear pale
  • Breathing may be shallow and rapid
  • Feel depressed and lack motivation to do anything
  • Thirst
  • Lack of energy

Many people will first ascribe the above symptoms to a nutritional deficiency or an illness. Because many people do not have a blood pressure monitoring device at home, the diagnosis of low blood pressure is often made by the healthcare provider. So if you are having any or all of the above symptoms, get your blood pressure measured before you start treating yourself with unnecessary vitamins and minerals.

Since most people do not know when low blood pressure is serious it is vital to follow up with a healthcare worker. If you do have a blood pressure monitoring device at home, keep a record of your numbers to show to the healthcare provider.


What Is The Low Blood Pressure Range?

It is difficult to define what low blood pressure is because what may be normal in one person may be considered low in another. However, most healthcare workers consider low blood pressure if the readings are lower than 90 mmHg systolic or 60 mmHg diastolic. Despite this, there are many people who have a blood pressure of 90/60 and live comfortably. But if the individual has symptoms, then the diagnosis of low blood pressure is confirmed.

Sometimes the blood pressure can drop suddenly. In most cases when this happens most people will have symptoms. For example, if a major blood vessel in the body is leaking or has ruptured, then the blood pressure can suddenly drop in the 80s or even lower.

Likewise, victims of heart attacks often experience a fall in their blood pressure, which may drop down into the 70s or 80s.

A blood pressure drop can also be severe if there is uncontrolled bleeding after trauma or an allergic reaction. In such cases, this can be life threatening and needs immediate attention.

It’s not only major conditions which cause low blood pressure. Feelings of dizziness or fainting can be the symptoms of a blood pressure drop of 10 mmHg which has prevented blood getting to the brain.

People who exercise and athletes often have low blood pressure and even a slow heart rate compared to people who do not exercise. Similarly people who eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and do not smoke also tend to have a low blood pressure compared to people who live a sedentary lifestyle. For these people, low blood pressure is normal and nothing to worry about.

During pregnancy, the vascular system takes up a lot of extra fluid and hence the blood vessels open up. This can result in low blood pressure but this is normal and returns to prepregnancy levels after delivery of the baby.

What Are Causes Of Low Blood Pressure?

There are many causes of low blood pressure and they include the following:

Dehydration. This is perhaps one of the most common causes of low blood pressure. When people do not drink adequate water, especially during a hot day, dehydration can occur and result in a drop in blood pressure.

Sepsis. A serious bacterial infection that spreads in the body, known as sepsis, can result in life threatening low blood pressure. Unless the bacterial infection is adequately treated, the prognosis is poor.

Heart Conditions. People who have heart problems like a heart attack or problems with their valves can also develop low blood pressure. In these scenarios, the heart has to be fixed to treat the low blood pressure.

Endocrine Problems. Endocrine problems like an under active thyroid or adrenal gland can result in low blood pressure. Diabetics who suddenly develop a drop in blood sugar can also develop a decrease in blood pressure.

Medications. There are many medications that can cause a drop in blood pressure. The most common drugs associated with low blood pressure include the following:

  • Water pills or diuretics
  • Beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure
  • Calcium channel blockers to treat heart disease
  • Drugs used to treat Parkinson disease
  • First generation antidepressants which are notorious for dropping blood pressure
  • Drugs like Viagra (Sildenafil) can also decrease blood pressure.

Bleeding. Bleeding can occur as a result of trauma, cancer or a surgical misadventure. If the bleeding is moderate to severe, it can be life threatening.

Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a life threatening disorder associated with an allergic reaction. Besides facial swelling and difficulty breathing it can result in severe drop in blood pressure. It can occur as a result of exposure to bee stings, drugs, certain foods and venoms.

Diarrhea. Severe diarrhea especially in the very young and elderly can result in significant water loss and lead to low blood pressure.

The only way to know if you have developed low blood pressure is to have a blood pressure monitoring device at home. Unlike high blood pressure, which requires life long treatment, low blood pressure in most cases can be treated by managing the condition causing it.

In some people the cause of low pressure is never found. In such cases, the healthcare provider may recommend the addition of more salt in the diet and the use of compression stockings. These two maneuvers quickly reverse the low blood pressure and are relatively safe.

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