The Lowdown on Low Blood Pressure
By Barbara Floria
Doctors often consider chronically low blood pressure too low only if it drops suddenly or causes noticeable symptoms.
Most people worry about having high blood pressure. For a few people, however, low blood pressure, or hypotension, is a major concern.
"The majority of people who have blood pressure in the lower range are healthy and have nothing to worry about," says Daniel Jones, M.D., vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in Jackson, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association (AHA). "But in older people, the condition can cause dizziness and fainting and may indicate a serious condition, such as a heart condition."
Current guidelines identify optimal blood pressure as less than 120/80.
"What constitutes low blood pressure is relative and varies considerably from one person to another," says Dr. Jones. For a healthy person, there's almost no lower limit, so doctors often consider chronically low blood pressure too low only if it drops suddenly or causes noticeable symptoms.
What are the symptoms?
According to the AHA, these are symptoms of low blood pressure:
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Lack of concentration
Rapid, shallow breathing
These are possible causes of low blood pressure:
Medications, including antianxiety drugs; heart medications; drugs for Parkinson's disease; tricyclic antidepressants; and sildenafil, particularly in combination with nitroglycerine; narcotics and alcohol, the AHA says. Other prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause low blood pressure when taken in combination with drugs for high blood pressure.
Postural hypotension, or a sudden decrease in pressure that occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down. This can cause dizziness, blurred vision and fainting.
Heart problems, including an abnormally low heart rate, heart attack and heart failure.
Dehydration, shock, advanced diabetes and thyroid problems.
Most people with chronic low blood pressure can be safely treated with medication and lifestyle changes.
The following actions may help control the problem:
Drink more water and avoid alcohol. "Alcohol is dehydrating and can lower blood pressure temporarily in some people, even if you drink in moderation," says Dr. Jones.
Slow down. You may be able to reduce lightheadedness by taking it easy when you move from a prone to a standing position. Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning, for instance, sit up on the edge before standing and wiggle your feet and move your legs. This will get your heart rate up and increase circulation.
"In many instances, low blood pressure isn't serious," says Dr. Jones. "Still, it's important to see your doctor if you experience symptoms so the cause can be determined and the condition treated, if necessary."
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