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May-June 2012, Vol. XXVII, No. 3
 
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Your Health

Is your blood pressure too low?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious health problem. Keeping blood pressure from climbing too high can go a long way in helping prevent heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure. Experts recommend that adult blood pressure remain below 120/80 mm Hg.

There is a limit, however, to how low your blood pressure can go without producing symptoms. A blood pressure value of lower than 90/60 mm Hg may trigger symptoms that can affect a person's quality of life. These symptoms may include dimmed vision, dizziness, or fainting. Abnormally low blood pressure, or hypotension, may also be a symptom of a serious underlying medical condition.

What causes it?
Serious causes of hypotension may include severe infection (septic shock), heart attack, heart failure, allergic reactions, and major bleeding. Hypotension can also be a side effect of certain medications, including some used to treat anxiety, hypertension, and heart rhythm disorders. It may also sometimes be associated with dehydration, low thyroid, or certain disorders of the nervous system.

Some people with normal—or even high—blood pressure feel dizzy when their blood pressure falls suddenly. This blood pressure drop, called orthostatic hypotension, can occur after making an abrupt change in body position, such as standing up too quickly after lying down. People who are pregnant, dehydrated or have diabetes are more likely to develop postural hypotension. It can also happen to otherwise healthy older adults.

Standing too long, being in a hot environment, drinking alcohol, exercising too vigorously, or eating a very large meal can also lead to temporary hypotension.

Treatment options
Your doctor may perform tests to check for possible medical causes. If your blood pressure has dropped due to one of your medications, your doctor may adjust the dose or switch it to something else. In most instances, hypotension is managed by treating the underlying cause and asymptomatic hypotension generally does not require treatment.

Some types of hypotension can be treated with medication. Depending on your age, symptoms, and health status, your doctor might also recommend one or more of these self-care measures:

  • Add more salt to your diet
  • Wear pressure stockings
  • Get your blood sugar under better control if you have diabetes
  • Drink plenty of water and/or nonalcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages daily
  • Sit on the side of the bed for a short period before getting out of bed
  • Limit or avoid alcohol
  • Reduce the temperature of showers and baths
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals
  • Cut back on extremely vigorous exercise, especially in hot weather - people prone to orthostatic hypotension are more likely to fall and should take precautions to avoid triggers - they should rise slowly and carefully from a seated position

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