Low Blood Pressure Basics: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatments

Have you ever stood up quickly and then felt lightheaded or dizzy and everything goes blurry?

What you’re feeling is low blood pressure.

It’s a result of gravity pulling your blood down to your legs very quickly and away from  your heart.

It’s only a temporary state because it takes a minute for your body to circulate your blood back to your heart, allowing your blood pressure to return to normal.

This happens to older people, like me, more frequently because, as you get older, the cells in your heart and arteries respond slower than when you were young.

In fact, as many as 18% of the people over 65 years of age may experience lightheadedness or often referred to as “head rushes” when they stand up quickly.

People who suffer from low blood pressure feel these effects regularly, such as dizziness, blurry vision, and sometimes, even fainting.

The official name for low blood pressure is hypotension, not to be confused with hypertension, which is high blood pressure.

Normally, having a lower blood pressure would be good, but if it’s making you feel tired or dizzy, it might be a sign of an underlying condition that should be treated.

What Is Considered Low Blood Pressure?

Low blood pressure is just the opposite of high blood pressure.

When you have low blood pressure, not enough blood is circulating through your body, which means your body is not receiving the blood and oxygen it needs for the vital organs to function properly.

Looking at this blood pressure chart, you can see that normal blood pressure varies in the range of 90 to 120 for your systolic reading, which is the top reading and 60 to 80 for your diastolic reading, which is the bottom reading.

Low blood pressure is defined as your blood pressure being in the 90/60 range or below.

But most doctors consider blood pressure too low only if it causes symptoms. 

Most symptoms that are caused by low blood pressure, only last for short periods of time, but when symptoms continue, and don’t go away, you definitely need to see a doctor.

Your doctor will be able to determine the severity of your condition and give you a treatment plan. 

What are the Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure?

Like high blood pressure, the symptoms of low blood pressure are often not that visible. 

But unlike high blood pressure, there are definite symptoms of low blood pressure that you can experience and feel, that let you know that something is not right with your body.

Doctors will only consider chronically low blood pressure as a health concern if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms.

Some of these symptoms are…

  • Dizziness, particularly when you stand up
  • Fainting
  • Unable to focus
  • Cold, pale, sweaty skin
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, for any amount of time, it’s time to go see your doctor.

If you don’t consult a doctor immediately, and you allow these symptoms to continue, you could experience anaphylactic shocks, heart strokes, and even temporary or permanent brain damage.

Diagnosing Low Blood Pressure (Determining the Cause)

It’s not enough to just know that you have low blood pressure by taking your blood pressure readings, getting a physical or looking at your medical history. 

You need to find the cause of it. 

And doctors can do a number of things to find the underlying cause of your low blood pressure.

There’s several different types of tests that most doctors will administer to try and find the cause of your low blood pressure. 

 1. Electrocardiogram or an ECG

An ECG is the most common test for assessing heart conditions.

It is a simple and painless test that measures the electrical activity of the heart and only takes about 5 to 10 minutes to do in a doctor’s office.

When you do an ECG test, they’ll put small sticky patches on your arms, legs and chest, which are metal electrodes that are attached to an electrocardiograph machine.

The ECG machine records the electrical impulses that happen at each heartbeat and then records them on paper or a computer. 

An electrocardiogram will help to find irregularities in your heart rhythm or problems with your supply of blood and oxygen to your heart muscle.

It will also help detect if there are any defects or disorders in your heart.

It can also help discover if you’re having a heart attack or have had one in the past and just didn’t know it.

 2. Blood Tests

The doctor can also give you a blood test that will help to discover if you have low blood sugar, which is officially called hypoglycemia.

It will also test to see if you have high blood sugar, which is called hyperglycemia, which a lot of people with diabetes suffer from.

And it can also determine whether you have a low red blood cell count, which is called anemia.

All of these diseases, which can be detected through blood tests, can cause low blood pressure. 

The blood test will simply involve your doctor or the lab-technician drawing some of your blood, typically from a vein in your arm.

3. Tilt Table Test

A Tilt Table test is used to determine whether there is a communication problem between your brain and your heart, which is called, “neurally mediated hypotension.”

So for this test, you lie down on a table that can be tilted up or down, which simulates standing or lying down.

You’ll be hooked up to an electrocardiogram machine.

The medical assistant will tilt the table quickly and observe how your body reacts to being switched between these two positions and the ECG machine will record the electrical impulses in your body.

By the way, if you do have neurally mediated hypotension, chances are, you’ll faint during this test.

Just a heads up.

4. Echocardiogram

An Echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves, to obtain images of your heart and its chambers. The images show how your heart looks, its size and how well it is pumping.

An echocardiogram is different from an ECG test because it uses high-frequency sound waves to get images of your heart and its chambers instead of electrical impulses.

The medical assistant hooks you up to an electrocardiograph machine with electrodes and then a person called a “sonographer” will put some gel on your chest and wave a wand over the area.

5. Stress Test

So I’ve taken this stress test in preparation for my kidney transplant that I had back in 2013.

With this test, they hook you up to an ECG machine and they have you run or walk on a treadmill.

They increase the intensity by increasing the incline of the treadmill.

I remember that I rocked that test because at that time I was super fit. 

And for people who can’t exercise, they give you some type of medication that makes your heart pump faster as they monitor it. 

Potential Causes of Low Blood Pressure

Experiencing low blood pressure can be caused by a myriad of health issues.

I’ll name just a few and try not to get too technical  with you.

If you’ve been prescribed bed rest, it can cause low blood pressure.

Often, during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, a woman can experience low blood pressure because there’s a higher need for blood for herself, and her baby.

A loss of blood from any internal bleeding, trauma or dehydration can result in low blood pressure. 

Certain medications like diuretics, antidepressant drugs or high blood pressure drugs like beta blockers can cause low blood pressure symptoms.

Heart problems like problems with heart valves or having a heart attack may decrease the heart’s strength to circulate enough blood through your body.

Endocrine problems like thyroid disease can cause low blood pressure. 

Severe infections like septic shock can produce toxins that affect blood vessels that lead to a decline in blood pressure.

Allergic reactions to foods like peanuts or bee and wasp stings can cause hives and swellings in the body that result in low blood pressure. 

Nutritional deficiencies like a lack of essential vitamins B-12 and folic acid can cause anemia, which in turn can lead to low blood pressure.

And some people have low blood pressure for unknown reasons. 

These are just a few of the causes of low blood pressure. 

Potential Treatments and Medications for Low Blood Pressure

If your low blood pressure is serious, your doctor might put you on IV fluids, which are fluids given into your vein through a thin plastic tube.

If you’ve lost a lot of blood, doctors may give you a blood transfusion. 

Your doctors also may give you medicines to raise your blood pressure and improve the flow of oxygenated blood to other parts of the body.

There are two main medicines that are usually prescribed to increase blood flow.

The first one is fludrocortisone, which works by retaining sodium in your body, causing fluid retention that often increases blood pressure. 

The other medication is Midodrine, which activates receptors on the smallest arteries and veins to produce an increase in blood pressure. 

Natural Low Blood Pressure Treatments and Tips 

Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your doctor may tell you to increase your blood pressure by making these simple, natural changes:

  1. Increase the salt in your diet because the salt causes your body to hold extra water, which increases your blood pressure. 
  1. Drink lots of nonalcoholic fluids, because again, when your body increases fluid, it causes your blood pressure to increase.
  1. Make sure your doctor reviews your prescriptions and any other medications you’re taking to see if they are causing your low blood pressure. 
  1. Start exercising regularly to promote more blood flow through your body.
  1. Avoid heavy lifting.
  1. If you’re sitting down, try to pump your feet and legs a few times before standing up.
  1. And if you’re lying down, try sitting up first before you stand up.
  1. Avoid sitting on the toilet for a long time or standing still in place for a long time because they both can cut off blood circulation. 
  1. Avoid standing in hot showers or sitting in a hot tub for too long, because those activities can reduce your blood circulation.

10. If needed, use elastic support compression stockings, called compression socks that cover the calf and thigh. 

All these tips and suggestions may help restrict blood flow to the legs, thus keeping more blood in the upper body.

Summary

If you ever feel lightheaded when you stand up or get dizzy and it keeps happening, you might have low blood pressure.

It may or may not be serious, but you should see a doctor to find out if it is because having low blood pressure can be a symptom of a serious health issue.

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