Hypotension is defined as an abnormal decrease in blood pressure. Although there are several types of hypotension, orthostatic hypotension and postprandial hypotension are among the most common. Orthostatic hypotension occurs when rising too quickly to a standing position from sitting, bending over or lying down. Postprandial hypotension occurs within 2 hours of a meal when an increased amount of blood is diverted to the digestive organs.
Hypotension becomes a health concern when the decrease in blood pressure is accompanied by symptoms. Otherwise, it may be completely normal and acceptable to have lower blood pressure.
Persons 65 years and older are at increased risk of developing hypotension, and about 20% of them will experience regular episodes of low blood pressure. Pregnant women and growing children are also more likely to be affected. Certain diseases, such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and anemia can also increase one's risk of developing hypotension. We cannot overlook the fact that some individuals may be genetically predisposed to hypotension since they do not present any of these characteristics.
Generally speaking, an isolated episode of hypotension is no cause for concern. However, severe or recurrent hypotension does not usually develop without reason. Low blood pressure has many different causes including:
- Certain medications (diuretics, antihypertensives, antidepressants, sleeping pills, etc.)
- Alcohol or marijuana
- Heart condition
- Serious injury
The diagnosis of hypotension includes a systolic blood pressure (the higher of the two numbers of a blood pressure reading) that is less than 90 mmHg. Orthostatic hypotension is also defined as a sudden drop in blood pressure of at least 20 mmHg (systolic blood pressure) and of at least 10 mmHg (diastolic blood pressure) when rising to a standing position from lying down. Hypotension becomes a health concern when the drop in blood pressure is accompanied by one of the following symptoms or malaises:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting or syncope
- Blurred vision or muffled hearing
- Feeling of weakness
Hypotension is considered severe if it falls below 50 mmHg.
You should consult your doctor immediately if you experience a drop in blood pressure that is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of consciousness or fever. If the drop in blood pressure is unexplained or the result of taking a certain medication, you should see your doctor within a few days. If you have a tendency to develop a drop in blood pressure but do not present any other symptom, it is still recommended that you see your doctor within the next few weeks.
If you experience a drop in blood pressure, lie down and raise your legs above your heart. If this is not possible, bend forward and put your head between your knees. Avoid getting up. You can rub the back of your neck with your hands or place a cold damp compress on the back of the neck to activate blood flow. Eating and drinking as needed is also important.
Treatment mainly involves prevention. Certain medications can, however, be used to treat low blood pressure. Wearing compression socks may also be helpful.
Several measures can be taken on a daily basis to help prevent a drop in blood pressure:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Avoid standing and staying still for too long
- Avoid spending too much time in very hot environments (example: sauna)
- Avoid large meals
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Avoid crossing legs when sitting
- Get up slowly
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.