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Low blood pressure is sometimes referred to as hypotension and typically describes blood pressures of 90/60mmHg, or below. It is not normally a cause for concern unless you start to experience symptoms after changing your posture. If you have low blood pressure, but feel perfectly well, there will be no need for any investigation or treatment. Generally, the lower your blood pressure is, the lower your risk of developing heart problems or having a stroke.
Who might be affected by low blood pressure (hypotension)?
Low blood pressure (hypotension) can affect anyone. It can occur naturally for no obvious reason; however, it can also occur as a result of taking certain mediations or having another medical condition, such as diabetes. As we get older our risk of developing low blood pressure can increase.
What are the symptoms of low blood pressure?
Most people with a blood pressure of 90/60 mmHg or lower won’t experience any unusual symptoms or require any form of treatment. However a small number of people with low blood pressure may experience symptoms such as:
- light-headedness / dizziness
- blurred vision
- general feeling of weakness
- feeling confused
- a temporary loss of consciousness (fainting)
These symptoms may only occur when you stand up, change position quickly from lying down to sitting up or after periods of inactivity or exertion. This kind of low blood pressure is called ‘postural hypotension’.
Do I need to seek medical advice?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you should tell your doctor. These kinds of symptoms can be unpleasant, but if you pass out or fall over you could be putting yourself in unnecessary danger. Your doctor will look for a cause for your symptoms so that the right treatment can be started.
How is low blood pressure (hypotension) diagnosed?
Low blood pressure (hypotension) can be diagnosed by having your blood pressure measured. If you experience dizziness after standing up you may have to have your blood pressure taken when you are lying down and again while you are standing up. Some clinical centres may offer a tilt-table test. During this test you lie securely on a table that moves slowly from a horizontal position to a vertical (upright) position. Your blood pressure and pulse are recorded at various times as the table changes angle and any symptoms that you experience throughout the test are noted. If your doctor needs more information, a blood test to check your hormone levels may also be arranged.
What causes low blood pressure?
Some people simply have a low blood pressure – perhaps because it is in their genetic make up. Other people may develop it as they get older. Our arteries become less supple as we age, which can result in a fall in blood pressure when we stand. Other causes include:
- Blood pressure lowering drugs: Some alpha blocker medications can trigger postural hypotension.
- Diabetes: Diabetes can affect the normal control of blood pressure and cause damage to the nerves supplying your blood vessels. This can lead to a fall in blood pressure upon standing up. During this kind of quick movement your blood vessels may find it hard to adjust.
- Neurological conditions: For example, Parkinson’s disease. The drugs that are prescribed to treat Parkinson’s can cause low blood pressure. Postural hypotension is the most common form seen. There are some rare nerve conditions that can affect the reflexes in our legs. A severe drop in blood pressure would occur upon standing.
- Problems with your adrenal glands: If your adrenal glands are damaged or malfunctioning, your body may not be producing adequate amounts of the hormone aldosterone. This can lead to excess salt loss and low blood pressure.
Is treatment available for low blood pressure?
Treatment is available, if your doctor feels that there is a cause for your symptoms that can be treated. For example:
- If your GP suspects that a medicine you are taking is the cause of your low blood pressure, an alternative medicine may be suggested, or the dosage changed.
- If adrenal gland failure is causing your low blood pressure, you may require some hormone replacement.
- If you have a nerve condition, you may be given medicines that will stimulate your nervous system.
- For some people wearing supportive elastic stockings may be enough.
The type of treatment offered will vary from person to person, depending on the cause of the low blood pressure.
If you have concerns about low blood pressure, see your doctor for further information.