- What is low blood pressure?
- Signs of low blood pressure
- What causes low blood pressure?
- When to see a doctor
- Complications of low blood pressure
- When is low blood pressure an emergency?
- How to raise low blood pressure
- Things to avoid that reduce blood pressure
- How to raise low blood pressure quickly in an emergency
Blood pressure can be normal, high, or low.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a widely prevalent condition that is extensively discussed.
But what happens when blood pressure is low? Even more so, what happens when it’s dangerously low?
In this post, you’ll learn more about low blood pressure, its causes, and how to raise it.
What is low blood pressure?
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is a medical term for a blood pressure reading that is lower than 90 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) for systolic (top number) and 60 mm Hg for diastolic (lower number).
However, whether blood pressure is low can vary from person to person. What’s considered low for one person may be okay for another.
Not all cases of hypotension are the same. There are different types of low blood pressure, such as:
- Orthostatic hypotension – also known as postural hypotension, is a sudden drop in blood pressure when changing position, e.g., standing after sitting or lying.
- Neutrally mediated hypotension – happens after standing for long periods and usually affects young adults and children.
- Postprandial hypotension – occurs one to two hours after eating. It usually affects older adults, particularly those with hypertension or autonomic nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s.
- Multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension – also known as Shy-Drager syndrome. This is a rare disorder that affects the nervous system in charge of involuntary functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Since hypotension is mainly asymptomatic, it is a widely under-recognized condition.
Low blood pressure affects people of all ages, but it is more likely to affect older men and women. Since hypotension is asymptomatic, it’s impossible to know how many people have it.
That being said, the prevalence of orthostatic hypotension increases with age. Around 5% of people have orthostatic hypotension at 50, whereas over 30% of people over 70 have it.
Signs of low blood pressure
Signs of low blood pressure include:
- Blurred or fading vision
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Difficulty concentrating
What causes low blood pressure?
Blood pressure varies depending on the time of day. Generally speaking, blood pressure increases during the day, but what you do and how you feel can affect it.
Hypotension doesn’t have a single cause but a multitude of them. Common causes of low blood pressure are listed below:
- Heart and valve conditions such as heart attack, heart valve disease, and bradycardia (extremely low heart rate)
- Pregnancy, especially in the first 24 weeks due to the rapid expansion of blood vessels
- Endocrine disorders such as those affecting parathyroid or adrenal glands, e.g., Addison’s disease. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) can sometimes lower blood pressure.
- Nutritional deficiencies such as lack of vitamin B12, folate, and iron
- Anaphylaxis or severe allergic reaction
- Septicemia or severe infection
- Blood loss due to an injury or internal bleeding
- Prescription medications that treat heart failure, blood pressure, depression, erectile dysfunction, neurological problems, and others
- Extreme temperatures, such as being too hot or cold
When to see a doctor
See a doctor when experiencing symptoms of extreme hypotension. Further in this post, you’ll learn more about extreme hypotension.
Healthcare providers usually consider blood pressure to be low when it causes symptoms.
Many people feel dizzy at one point or another. They don’t necessarily have hypotension.
Dizziness can result from spending too much time in the sun or due to other health problems. For that reason, it’s necessary to see a doctor if symptoms occur so that they can make an accurate diagnosis.
Complications of low blood pressure
Complications of low blood pressure depend on the causes and presence of symptoms. Hypotension is unlikely to be a problem for a person who doesn’t experience symptoms of this condition.
However, when left ignored or in cases when people do experience symptoms, low blood pressure can cause the following complications:
- Higher risk of falls and fall-related injuries
- Difficulty standing up
- Reduced body oxygen levels (in severely low blood pressure)
- Heart and brain damage (in severely low blood pressure)
- Impaired quality of life due to decreased ability to care for oneself, drive, and perform other daily activities
When is low blood pressure an emergency?
Generally speaking, low blood pressure is not an emergency. Sometimes a person isn’t even aware their blood pressure is low.
A specific cut-off point at which blood pressure becomes too low doesn’t exist. It all varies from one person to another. Someone can have chronic hypotension and be healthy.
In some cases, however, low blood pressure is an emergency. Extreme low blood pressure is known as shock, an emergency indicated by symptoms, such as:
- Cold or clammy skin
- Confusion (particularly in the elderly)
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Pallor (reduction in skin coloration, being very pale)
An abrupt fall in blood pressure can be dangerous. A drop from 110 mm Hg to 90 mm Hg systolic blood pressure can cause fainting or dizziness. But extreme hypotension may occur with bigger falls in blood pressure and can be life-threatening.
How to raise low blood pressure
Low blood pressure doesn’t always cause problems, but it can. When blood pressure drops, there’s a lot you can do to increase it. Below, you can look at different strategies to raise blood pressure.
Everything you do during the day can contribute to changes in blood pressure readings throughout the day. Raising blood pressure also requires making some lifestyle adjustments.
- Be careful when changing positions
- Exercise regularly
- Wear compression stockings
You may want to pay attention to body positions. Some people have orthostatic hypotension, which can negatively affect their quality of life.
To reduce this dizziness or lightheadedness when changing positions, you should gently move from lying or sitting to a standing position.
Avoid sitting with your legs crossed. But if hypotension symptoms start while standing, make sure to cross the thighs (like scissors) and squeeze. Or you can put one foot on a chair and lean as far forward as possible. This simple maneuver encourages blood flow to the heart from the legs.
Exercise is vital for every aspect of life, and the management of low blood pressure isn’t an exception.
Wearing compression stockings can also help manage low blood pressure and raise it. Also known as support stockings, these garments improve blood flow from the legs to the heart. They are widely used for managing varicose veins, but they can also serve this purpose.
Foods that raise blood pressure
Nutrition plays an important role in the management of hypotension. Simple dietary adjustments can go a long way and raise blood pressure levels.
For example, you may want to:
- Eat a low-carb diet
- Have several smaller meals during the day
- Increase intake of vitamin B12 and folate
- Eat salty foods (but don’t overdo it)
- Drink coffee or caffeinated tea
- Stay hydrated throughout the day
Avoid eating too much. Have smaller meals several times a day and strive to limit your intake of carbohydrates. This will help prevent the drop in blood pressure people experience after meals.
For example, you may want to eat more foods high in vitamin B12 because a deficiency in this micronutrient leads to anemia which can cause fatigue and hypotension. Good sources of vitamin B12 are fortified cereals, eggs, nutritional yeast, and animal yeast.
You can also raise blood pressure by increasing salt intake. Eat more smoked fish, canned soup, pickled items, cottage cheese, and other foods on the saltier side. You shouldn’t overdo it, though. Eating too much salt could cause high blood pressure as a result.
In order to raise blood pressure, you may want to increase your intake of foods high in folate. Insufficient folate levels in the blood can contribute to anemia. Good sources of folate are beans, asparagus, lentils, leafy greens, citrus fruits, liver, and eggs.
What you drink also influences your blood pressure. Coffee and caffeinated tea may be good options because they stimulate the cardiovascular system and boost heart rate, thereby increasing blood pressure.
At the same time, drink plenty of fluids during the day to raise blood pressure. Dehydration can reduce blood volume and cause a drop in blood pressure.
Staying hydrated and increasing your fluid intake are particularly important for people who exercise. You should drink more water and less alcohol.
Medical treatment of low blood pressure relies on three potential approaches.
One approach is to increase blood volume. This method is known as fluid resuscitation, and it involves infusing fluids into the blood. Good examples of this approach are intravenous (IV) fluids, plasma, or blood transfusions.
The second approach constricts blood vessels, whereas the third changes how the body handles fluid.
The kidneys are responsible for maintaining fluid balance, but some medications can help keep salt and fluid in the body. This can increase blood pressure.
Also, you need to be proactive about your health. Medical treatments for hypotension also depend on how you manage other aspects of your health.
With that in mind, you need to:
- Check your blood sugar levels
- Get thyroid checked
- Treat bacterial, viral, or fungal infections
Things to avoid that reduce blood pressure
When it comes to managing low blood pressure, it’s not always about what you need to do. There are also some things that you need to avoid.
For example, you may want to avoid:
- Alcohol intake – even short-term alcohol consumption can elicit hypotension during orthostatic stress due to impairment of vasoconstriction (4). Also, alcohol contributes to dehydration, which can aggravate or contribute to hypotension.
- Exercising in extreme heat – while regular exercise is important for healthy blood pressure levels, you should avoid working out in hot and humid conditions. These environments could make breathing more difficult and contribute to dehydration.
- Spending a lot of time in saunas or hot tubs – steam from the sauna, hot tub, and similar areas can contribute to dehydration and thereby cause or worsen your hypotension.
- Prolonged bed rest – moving to a standing position from prolonged bed rest could induce orthostatic hypotension and dizziness that comes with it.
- Changing posture abruptly – you shouldn’t sit or stand for prolonged periods because it can contribute to orthostatic hypotension.
How to raise low blood pressure quickly in an emergency
In an emergency, low blood pressure is treated by addressing the underlying cause. For example, EpiPen is used for a person whose sudden drop in blood pressure is caused by an allergic reaction. Management of the underlying cause helps raise blood pressure quickly.
Patients in the emergency room also receive IVs that rapidly bring their blood pressure back.
Doctors may ask questions about a patient’s medical history, infections they’ve had, or medications they are taking.
In the emergency department, healthcare providers check a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. They may carry out imaging tests to check the internal body and organs.
Millions of people in the world have high blood pressure, but it’s not entirely clear how many people have hypotension or low blood pressure.
The reason is simple; hypotension is very common and tends to be asymptomatic. People aren’t always aware they have low blood pressure unless they experience symptoms such as dizziness.
Fortunately, you can manage low blood pressure without drastic measures. Make sure to eat something salty, drink coffee, and adjust your diet to raise your blood pressure and maintain it in a healthy range. Regular exercise is also important. See a doctor for symptoms that you may experience.