The link between high blood pressure, or hypertension, and the health problems it causes has been well understood for decades. This is why physicians constantly tell us how important it is to lower our blood pressure. In fact, people hear it so often, they might be tempted to think “the lower, the better,” right?
Not necessarily. It is possible for your blood pressure to get too low, a condition known as hypotension.
While a lot of people know what their blood pressure readings are, they may not know what those readings actually measure. Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through the arteries, putting pressure on the artery walls. If that pressure is too high, it can damage the arteries throughout the body, eventually leading to heart disease, kidney disease and many other issues.
Doctors don’t talk about low blood pressure as much as high blood pressure for several reasons. First, it’s not nearly as common as high blood pressure, which affects as many as 29 percent of adults 18 and over in the U.S. Second, physicians don’t diagnose hypotension based on blood pressure readings alone. Instead, they only do so if low readings are accompanied by one or more of the symptoms the condition is known to cause.
Symptoms of low blood pressure
When a patient’s blood pressure drops to an unsafe level, the body doesn’t get enough oxygen and nutrients from the reduced blood supply. This can cause symptoms that include:
- Dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded
- Unusually persistent thirst or dehydration
- Fainting spells
- Inability to concentrate
- Blurred vision
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Cold, clammy skin
- Pale skin that loses color
Hypotension can have many causes, but one of the most common is a feeling of dizziness or fainting after standing up too quickly from a prone or seated position. This is known as orthostatic or postural hypotension and it’s caused by a temporary reduction in blood flow, leading to a brief shortage of oxygen to the brain. Usually, all it takes to stabilize this condition is sitting back down. This is also why hypotension tends to happen often after long periods of bed rest.
While there are many possible causes of hypotension, included among the more serious conditions that require medical attention is that it could indicate a problem with heart valves or some other form of heart failure. Hypotension may also point to a decrease in blood volume, which could be caused by unknown internal bleeding, as well as an injury or dehydration.
Treatments for low blood pressure
If you have experienced low readings along with any of the symptoms that accompany low blood pressure, it is important to see your doctor just to play it safe. Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing and the severity of the condition, treatments may include:
- Adding more salt to your diet
- Replenishing fluids through an IV if you’re severely dehydrated
- Changing or discontinuing any medications that reduce blood pressure
Additionally, your doctor may prescribe medication that treats an underlying problem that’s causing your low blood pressure. For example, it may be caused by an infection, which would require antibiotics.
As always, if you’re unsure, let your physician know what your concerns are and schedule an appointment.
Heart Disease Prevention Guide
We know that managing your heart health can be a daunting task. That’s why we’ve created a guide for patients to serve as a resource.