What is hypotension / low blood pressure?
Hypotension is characterized by abnormally low blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force with which the blood pushes against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps out blood.
The blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. The blood pressure is usually lower overnight while you're sleeping. It rises a few hours before you wake up, and continues rising during the day, reaching its highest pressure during mid-afternoon.
Blood pressure readings are represented by two numbers. The systolic blood pressure represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts and the diastolic pressure represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes.
The blood pressure numbers are written with the systolic number above or before the diastolic number, such as 120/80 mmHg.
- Normal - below 120 systolic and below 80 diastolic mmHg
- Hypotension - below 90/60 mmHg
- Prehypertension - 121 to 139 systolic and 81-89 diastolic mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 1 - 140 to 159 systolic and 90 to 99 diastolic mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 2 - 160 or higher systolic and 100 or higher diastolic mmHg
- Hypertensive crisis (medical emergency) - blood pressure is above 180 systolic and 110 diastolic mmHg.
How does hypotension / low blood pressure occur?
Our blood carries oxygen throughout our body. With every heartbeat, pressure is generated which pushes the blood through a network of arteries and veins.
Blood pressure doesn't stay the same at all times. The blood pressure lowers when you sleep and rises when you wake up. The physical body is very sensitive to changes in blood pressure. It adjusts your blood pressure to make sure enough blood and oxygen are flowing to all the vital organs in your body.
Changes in blood pressure can occur with mood changes, for instance, it rises when you are excited, or highly active. It can also change with sudden movements for example, if you stand up suddenly, your blood pressure may drop for sometime.
Who is prone to hypotension / low blood pressure?
People over the age of 65 years experience drops in blood pressure upon sudden bodily movements or after eating. Orthostatic and postural hypotension occurs in adults when they suddenly stand up from a sitting position. Postprandial hypotension occurs in adults after they eat a meal.
Children and young adults tend to suffer from neurally mediated hypotension also known as the fainting reflex, which occurs when there is an abnormal reflex interaction between the heart and the brain. Neurally mediated hypotension occurs after:
prolonged periods of upright posture
being in a warm environment such as hot summer weather, a hot crowded room, a hot shower or bath
facing stressful emotional situations
Low blood pressure can also affect people taking certain medications such as diuretics, alpha blockers, beta blockers, antidepressants, and drugs taken for Parkinson’s disease.
Sometimes during surgeries, the patient’s blood pressure is deliberately lowered to help reduce blood loss
Problems with the adrenal glands and thyroid glands can cause low blood pressure.
Women may suffer from low blood pressure during pregnancy as the body undergoes changes.
People who suffer from malnutrition or any form of dietary deficiency, especially those who suffer from bulimia or anorexia are prone to serious hypotension.
People who are immobile for prolonged periods can suffer from hypotension.
Health conditions such as dehydration, diabetes, blood loss due to injury, severe infection or septicemia, and severe allergies can cause a steep drop in the blood pressure.
Low blood pressure can also be a genetic condition. If your parents have low blood pressure, there is a possibility you too will inherit it from them.
What are the causes of hypotension / low blood pressure?
Hypotension can be caused by a number of factors including:
heart arrhythmias or arrhythmic heart beats
hormonal problems such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), diabetes, or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
certain over-the-counter medications
some prescription medications such as diuretics, alpha blockers, beta blockers, antidepressants, and drugs taken for Parkinson’s disease
widening of the blood vessels
heat exhaustion or heat stroke
There are also other causes which can lead to sudden drops in blood pressure. This form of hypotension can be fatal. The causes include:
loss of blood due to injury
low body temperature
high body temperature
a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis
a reaction to taking certain medications or drinking alcohol
What are the symptoms of hypotension / low blood pressure? How is it diagnosed?
The symptoms of hypotension include:
dizziness or lightheadedness
nausea and vomiting
cold, clammy, pale skin
rapid, shallow breathing
fast heart rate
abnormal or arrhythmic heart beats
lack of concentration
Low blood pressure can be easily diagnosed by measuring your blood pressure. Depending on the severity of your low blood pressure the doctor may suggest further tests such as blood tests or an electrocardiogram to determine the underlying cause of hypotension.
What are the complications of hypotension / low blood pressure?
Severe hypotension can lead to a number of complications such as:
repeated fainting spells
stroke due to the reduced blood supply to the brain
What is the treatment of hypotension / low blood pressure?
Medical treatment for hypotension generally involves the doctor addressing its root cause.
If your doctor suspects that your low blood pressure is caused by some underlying health condition, he will refer you to the appropriate specialist for the treatment. If your low blood pressure is the result of certain medicines the doctor will in all probability change the medicines.
Very few patients are prescribed medicines for low blood pressure. Usually, this condition gets addressed by making lifestyle changes and taking in more fluids in the form of fruit juices with salt.
If you have low blood pressure, exercise can trigger a further drop in your blood pressure. However, that does not imply that you avoid exercising. Exercising is highly necessary so that you have proper blood circulation.
You can do deep breathing exercises such as Pranayam. Starting your day with Pranayama will improve oxygen supply in your body, and once your vital organs receive a healthy supply of oxygen your blood pressure will regularise. You can also opt for exercises such as aerobics, jogging, walking, cycling, and light weightlifting.
Do not make sudden movements such as, lift your head suddenly from below the heart, or get up quickly from a supine position.
Yoga is suitable for you too if it involves twisting your body.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Hypotension can mean neurological disorders
Low blood pressure can be a sign of heart, endocrine or even signal neurological disorders.
Indian woman suffer from hypotension more than men
Many Indian women suffer from low blood pressure and also low hemoglobin compared to their male counterparts.
Lifestyle modifications can prevent hypotension
Certain lifestyle modifications can prevent low blood pressure from causing any major health problems.
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