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Low blood pressure | Causes, symptoms, management, and treatment

07 November, 2018
Doctor checking blood pressure of patient

Getting low

In an age of stress, anxiety and almost constant change, it can be easy to forget that blood pressure flows both ways. Low blood pressure (or hypotension) might conjure images of sipping coconut juice on a beach, but the reality of the condition may leave some feeling weak, tired, and dizzy.

Before we get to that, we must ask…

What is low blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure pumped blood places against the walls of blood vessels.

Blood pressure has 2 components, the systolic (the pressure exerted on vessels when the heart is contracting and diastolic which is the pressure exerted when the heart is relaxed.

A normal blood pressure is 120 (systolic)/80 (diastolic).

When your blood pressure is at healthy levels, it means your blood, carrying nutrients and oxygen to various parts of your body, isn’t putting your arteries or body under unnecessary strain to properly oxygenate all your organs.

High blood pressure could see your arteries and heart get damaged by the extra force placed on them. This is a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease (CVD) and other heart and general health conditions.

High blood pressure (hypertension stage 1) has a score of 130-139/80-89.

High blood pressure (hypertension stage 2) has a score of 140/90 or higher.

Critical blood pressure has a score of 180/120 or higher. If you are measured in this category, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Low blood pressure is the opposite, where your where the pressure of the blood circulating is lower than what is expected. It is generally only a problem if it produces physical symptoms.

A blood pressure score of 90/60 or lower is considered to be low.

Interesting note: very fit people can have low blood pressure and experience no negative effects. This is because their cardiovascular system is more efficient, able to deliver necessary blood without extra effort.

Symptoms of low blood pressure

Because low blood pressure can have no symptoms at all, it’s important that you’re getting your blood pressure checked regularly. When symptoms do occur, they might include:

  • Feelings of light-headedness or dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue and general weakness
  • Clammy, pale skin
  • Fainting

When might these symptoms occur?

Symptoms can occur when you’re doing nothing or going about your day as normal.

If you have orthostatic or postural hypotension, you’ll experience dizziness and light-headedness during a change of position, like getting up from a chair, or straining on the toilet.

This is because blood vessels respond to gravity by constricting. When they don’t constrict, your blood follows the natural path left to it by gravity, and rushes away from your brain.

What causes low blood pressure?

It’s a big, long list, but here it goes…

  • Overheating
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Allergies
  • High intake of drugs and alcohol
  • Some medications
  • Illness by infection
  • Certain heart conditions
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Emotional distress (like pain or fear)
  • Blood loss (donation or…otherwise)
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Addison’s disease
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Prolonged bed rest

Managing low blood pressure

Because low blood pressure is a symptom of other causes, it’s best to go to your GP to figure out the (forgive the pun) heart of the problem.

In the meantime, some general principles to follow are:

  • maintain a normal fluid intake
  • Eat a varied, healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Ask your doctor or chemist about side-effects of your medication
  • Take your time changing body positions, such as if going from lying to standing do so gradually and not in one quick movement
  • Control any bleeding straight away

Especially the last one.

If you’d like to know more about managing blood pressure, check out this helpful guide.

Sources

Healthdirect.gov.au

Betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Heartfoundation.org.au

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