Going to the doctor and seeing low numbers on the blood pressure cuff is a good thing, right? Not necessarily.
For some, having low blood pressure poses no danger. In moderate cases of low blood pressure, you can experience dizziness and fainting. But if your blood pressure is too low, you may suffer from hypotension, a potentially life-threatening condition with a variety of potential causes.
What Is Normal Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure in your arteries during both the active and resting phases of each heartbeat. It is measured in two numbers: Systolic pressure and Diastolic pressure.
Systolic pressure, or the number on the top of your blood pressure reading, is the amount of pressure your heart generates during the active portion of each heartbeat, or when it’s pushing blood from your heart into other parts of your body. Diastolic pressure, the bottom number on the blood pressure reading, is a measure of the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest between beats.
In most adults, a normal blood pressure reading is considered to be lower than 120/80 mm Hg.
What Is Low Blood Pressure?
Low blood pressure can vary from one person to the next. Some people have naturally low blood pressure, but most experts define low blood pressure as anything below 90/60 mm Hg.
While prolonged low blood pressure is worrisome, a sudden drop in blood pressure also can be cause for concern. Quick drops, especially those caused by specific conditions, can be life-threatening. If your blood pressure drops from 120/80 mm Hg to 100/80 mm Hg, for example, seek medical attention.
What Causes Low Blood Pressure?
Low blood pressure can be caused by a variety of different conditions. Some causes, such as feeling dizzy due to a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing or changing position, are more annoying than dangerous.
Some causes of low blood pressure include:
- Prolonged bed rest: If you’ve been lying down for a long period of time, your blood pressure may drop after standing upright for the first time.
- Decreased blood volume: A sudden loss of blood, such as resulting from a trauma or dehydration, can lead to a drop in blood pressure.
- Medications: Certain medications, including beta blockers, erectile dysfunction medications, and medications for Parkinson’s disease, can impact blood pressure.
- Heart problems: Some heart conditions, including abnormally low heart rate, problems with heart valves, heart attack, and heart failure, can cause low blood pressure.
- Septic shock: If you have an infection that enters the bloodstream, the bacteria produces toxins that affect the blood vessels.
- Allergic reaction: A sudden, severe allergic reaction can lead to difficulty breathing, hives, itching, a swollen throat, and a sudden, dramatic decrease in blood pressure.
- Nutritional deficiency: If you are low in B-12 and folic acid, you may suffer from anemia, which can lead to low blood pressure.
Some of the risk factors for developing low blood pressure include:
- Medications such as alpha blockers
- Certain diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and heart conditions.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure?
For some people, especially those with naturally low blood pressure, there will be no symptoms that accompany low blood pressure. For others, however, low blood pressure may be the sign of an underlying condition that requires medical attention.
Some of the symptoms of low blood pressure include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dehydration and unusual thirst
- Inability to concentrate
- Blurred vision
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
What Should I Do if I Experience Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure?
If you experience any of the above symptoms of low blood pressure, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor likely will conduct a full physical examination and may order some tests in an attempt to determine if there is an underlying condition that is causing your low blood pressure. You may be instructed to use a blood pressure cuff at home to monitor your blood pressure at various points throughout the day to see if there are patterns to your symptoms.
If you experience any of the more severe symptoms, including cold or clammy skin, confusion, or shallow breathing, seek medical attention immediately. These may be signs you are experiencing a very severe, life-threatening medical condition that needs prompt medical treatment.
While some of the symptoms of low blood pressure are common and harmless, such as a brief period of dizziness after standing or changing position too quickly, it’s important to keep a close eye on a pattern of symptoms or sudden, serious symptoms and seek medical attention as necessary.
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