Arterial hypotension, commonly known as low blood pressure, is caused by a drop in blood pressure in the arteries. There are several types of hypotension, the most common ones being orthostatic and postprandial hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension is a form of low blood pressure that happens when a person stands up quickly. Postprandial hypotension occurs within two hours following a meal.
Normal blood pressure can vary from person to person. Hypotension occurs when a person's blood pressure drops significantly below its usual level. Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may experience one or more of the following:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Blurred or impaired vision
- Fainting (also called syncope)
Syncope is the medical term for a loss of consciousness followed by a sudden recovery without intervention. It can result in a fall or accident that causes injury. Orthostatic and postprandial hypotension are more common in seniors, who are at greater risk of experiencing a fracture in the event of a fall.
When a person's blood pressure is extremely low, their body can go into shock. In this case, the following symptoms can occur:
- Cold and blue extremities
- Unusually pale complexion
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Weak or rapid pulse
Causes and triggers
Arterial pressure is determined by the amount of blood that flows through the arteries and by arterial resistance. When an organ requires a lot of blood, certain mechanisms cause the blood vessels in the rest of the body to contract so that the pressure can be adjusted. If these mechanisms don't work properly, the brain receives less blood and oxygen, which can lead to fainting.
Orthostatic hypotension is caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain when gravity pulls the blood downward. In postprandial hypotension, blood is directed to the intestine, which requires a lot of blood for digestion.
The main causes of orthostatic and postprandial hypotension are as follows:
- Heart failure
- Certain diseases (e.g., nervous system or hormone diseases)
- Certain medical conditions (e.g., pregnancy)
- Certain medications
- High blood pressure (in postprandial hypotension)
The first step in treating hypotension is determining the cause. If you think you may have arterial hypotension, start by talking to your health care provider. Simple lifestyle adjustments can help prevent the symptoms.
- Stand up slowly to give your body a chance to adapt
- Limit activities in hot weather
- Drink enough fluids
- Sleep with your head elevated
- Wear compression stockings
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Avoid eating heavy meals
- Eat meals that are low in carbohydrates (sugars)
- Avoid drinking alcohol
- Drink water with your meals
- Avoid standing activities right after you eat
- Lie down in a partly reclined position for 90 minutes after meals
- Walk between meals
If your low blood pressure is caused by medication, a simple adjustment may solve the issue. If not, certain prescription medications can also be used to treat it.
When should I see a health care professional?
Consult your health care provider in the following cases:
- You often feel dizzy when you stand up or after a meal
- You have fainted after standing up or after a meal