Almost everyone who has spent time in the doctor's office knows that testing blood pressure is an important way to screen for potential health problems. In the United States, cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women.Often, medical care professionals and patients alike will celebrate moderately low blood pressure, as research has shown that it may reduce the risk for cardiovascular events. Unfortunately, some patients seem to move beyond moderately low pressure, slipping into a state of hypotension--something that can produce debilitating symptoms on its own.
If you've recently been told that your blood pressure is extremely low, this article will help you to better understand your diagnosis and what it means.
What Exactly Is "Low Blood Pressure?"
The answer to this question varies depending on each patient's unique health profile. What may constitute as symptomatic hypotension in one person may be normal in another, so it's important to ask your physician whether your low blood pressure is a problem.
That being said, the Mayo Clinic states that many experts consider hypotension when pressure is lower than "90 mm Hg systolic (the number on top) or 60 mm Hg diastolic (the number on the bottom). It's possible to have only systolic hypotension, only diastolic hypotension, or a combination of both.
Why is Low Blood Pressure a Problem?
Understanding why low blood pressure is a problem requires an understanding of how blood pressure impacts your cardiovascular system. Firstly, think of your heart like the pump that brings water into your home. If you're suffering from low water pressure, you'll probably find that water comes out of the tap very slowly. Now, consider the fact that blood carries oxygen throughout the body.
When blood pressure is low, it's harder for blood to reach the extremities or even the brain itself--something that can produce many different symptoms. Dizziness, fainting, nausea, sweating, and even heart rhythm issues are associated with hypotension, although the latter tends to be fairly rare.
Can Low Blood Pressure Come and Go?
Yes, it is possible for hypotension to happen only some of the time, rather than all the time. This happens due to a number of medical conditions, high heat and humidity, and a number of medications. The most common way for this to manifest is with a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Experiencing a sudden drop in blood pressure is often concerning for patients. If you've ever stood up from a sitting position only to become excessively dizzy, you've experienced this. It isn't really an issue unless it starts happening regularly or in enough severity that it causes you to fall or feel ill for an extended period of time.
What Causes Low Blood Pressure?
A wide variety of conditions, medications, and situations can cause low blood pressure. Identifying the main cause can be difficult, and often requires a bit of trial and error on both your part and that of your physician. Some of the most well-known causes are explained below.
One of the most common causes is being on medication for high blood pressure, especially if the dose is too high for your needs. Other drugs that may contribute to hypotension include:
- Antidepressants and antipsychotics
- Blood thinners
- Street drugs
If you are taking any of these drugs, be sure to advise your physician so that he or she can determine whether they may be contributing to how you feel.
Heart disease can also cause hypotension, especially if the disease means that the heart itself isn't able to pump as hard as it should. One easy way to envision this is to envision the difference between a child and an adult squeezing your hand--both will put pressure on it, but the adult is likely to have the coordination and muscle to put out far more pressure.
If the heart muscle is damaged or your body isn't able to produce the chemicals needed to keep it pumping firmly, a drop in blood pressure may follow.
Liver and Kidney Problems
Issues with the liver, including cirrhosis, or issues with the kidneys can also wreak havoc with your body's ability to pump blood, mostly because they impact how much fluid is present in the body at any given time. In the case of cirrhosis, clotting factor is impacted, making the blood too thin to be efficient at carrying oxygen to the brain and extremities.
When the kidneys begin to fail, waste products build up in the bloodstream, impacting oxygenation, filtration, and the level of certain cardiovascular-impacting substances in the blood.
POTS (Postural Tachycardia Syndrome)
For a small number of patients, low blood pressure symptoms may become chronic. Often, this is because the patient has developed a condition called POTS. Up to 3 million Americans suffer with this debilitating condition each and every year. Considered to be a central nervous system disease, it causes chronic hypotension. High heart rates, or tachycardia, is one of the main symptoms of the disease, as the heart tries to work overtime to make up for the lowered blood pressure.
While POTS isn't fatal, it can be extremely debilitating. A small number of patients go on to become essentially bedridden, but the majority experience only minor symptoms that can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications.
Often, other conditions lead to the development of POTS. Liver disease is one of the biggest culprits, while genetic connective tissue diseases like Ehlers-Danlos are also linked. M.S., Chiari Malformation, and a number of neurological conditions are also linked to POTS. It can also occur for absolutely no identifiable reason at all.
If you've been diagnosed with low blood pressure, you should know that there is plenty doctors can do to treat the condition. Often, reducing medications or making simple lifestyle changes has the ability to reduce symptoms and get you feeling more like yourself again. As with any other medical condition, regular monitoring by a physician is vital. For questions about low blood pressure, or to speak with a physician about your health, schedule a doctor's appointment today at a local medical clinic.