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What is Hypotension?

By By NRI Staff • Updated November 18, 2022

A Healthcare Worker Measuring a Patient's Blood Pressure Using a Sphygmomanometer

When a person has low blood pressure it is medically referred to as hypotension. Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the artery walls as it circulates through the body and is measured using two numbers: systolic and diastolic.

  • Systolic: The systolic number is the pressure when the heart contracts and pushes blood out of its chambers.
  • Diastolic: The diastolic number is the pressure when the heart relaxes in between beats.

A normal blood pressure reading for an adult is 120/80 mm Hg or lower. When a person’s blood pressure falls below this number, they are diagnosed with hypotension. Low blood pressure can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, and fainting. 

Treatment for hypotension depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, lifestyle changes or medications may be all that is needed. In more severe cases, surgery or other treatments may be necessary.

Causes

There are many potential causes of hypotension. Some are caused by external factors, like dehydration or overheating. Others are the result of internal problems, such as heart problems or hormone imbalances. In some cases, the cause of hypotension is never identified.

Some common causes of hypotension include:

  • Dehydration
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Medications
  • Stress
  • Age
  • Body positioning
  • Anemia

Risk Factors

There are a variety of risk factors for hypotension. Some of these include: taking medications such as diuretics and beta blockers, being dehydrated, having an underlying medical condition such as diabetes or heart disease, and being older. Other risk factors include being pregnant, having low blood pressure to start with, and smoking.

Symptoms

Most people who have low blood pressure, or hypotension, don’t experience any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms of hypotension include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

In more severe cases, people may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or nausea. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor right away.

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose hypotension, a doctor will take a patient’s blood pressure and pulse. They may also ask about the patient’s medical history and current medications. If the doctor suspects that the patient has hypotension, they may order additional tests, such as an echocardiogram or blood work.

Complications

One common complication associated with hypotension is an increased susceptibility to infection. This is because a drop in blood pressure can reduce the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the body’s organs, including the immune system. Additionally, when blood pressure is low, the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. This can lead to heart problems down the road.

Another potential complication of hypotension is fainting or syncope. This occurs when someone loses consciousness due to a sudden and significant drop in blood pressure. Fainting can be dangerous, as it can lead to injuries if a person falls.

Finally, people with hypotension are at risk for developing chronic kidney disease. This is because a decrease in blood pressure can damage renal arteries and lead to kidney failure over time.

Treatment

Although hypotension is usually not a life-threatening condition, it can be bothersome and uncomfortable. There are many treatments available to help relieve the symptoms of hypotension. Treatments include lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery. 

Lifestyle changes that can help relieve the symptoms of hypotension include eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine. If these changes do not provide enough relief, medications may be prescribed. These medications can include diuretics, beta blockers, and ACE inhibitors. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying cause of the hypotension.

Natural Remedies

Although there are medications to treat hypotension, some people may prefer to use natural remedies. One natural remedy is ginger. Ginger can be consumed in many different forms including tea, capsules, and powder. Another natural remedy is hawthorn. Hawthorn can be taken as a pill or a liquid extract. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids and eat salt-free foods when treating hypotension with natural remedies.

Outlook

An estimated 1 in 4 adults experience hypotension at some point in their lives. For many, the condition is nothing more than an annoyance. But for some, hypotension can lead to a number of health complications. If hypotension is caused by dehydration or another easily-reversible condition, then the outlook is generally good and most people will recover without any problems. 

However, if the hypotension is due to a more serious health problem, such as heart disease or diabetes, then the outlook may be less favorable. In these cases, it is important to seek medical attention so that the underlying cause can be treated.

Sources:

American Heart Association editorial staff. “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings“.

National Institute of Health editorial staff. “Understanding Blood Pressure Readings“. 24 Mar. 2022

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