Low Blood Pressure Can Be Dangerous, Too

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May 8, 2018


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This post is available in: Spanish

Seems like high blood pressure, or hypertension, gets all the publicity, when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart and body. But low blood pressure, while less common than high blood pressure, can require medical attention and treatment, too. It also can indicate problems that don’t directly involve your heart or cardiovascular system.

Normal Blood Pressure

The American Heart Association categorizes “normal” blood pressure as one with a systolic pressure of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mm Hg, or 120/80 mm Hg. Yet, athletes and fitness enthusiasts can have “normal” blood pressure as low as 95/60 mm Hg.

“We often see low blood pressure in young, healthy people, especially those who exercise regularly,” said Rozan Razzouk, M.D., a family medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care at Baptist Hospital. “Those individuals often live with low blood pressure and experience no symptoms.”

If no symptoms are present, Dr. Razzouk says she doesn’t worry. But, she says, when low blood pressure becomes symptomatic, it’s time to seek medical attention.

Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure

The most common symptoms of low blood pressure Dr. Razzouk sees include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Heart palpitations or sensation of rapidly beating heart

“When we see any of these symptoms, along with low blood pressure, we want to investigate what might be causing the low pressure,” she said. “When not enough blood is getting to our internal organs, problems can develop quickly.”

Causes of Low Blood Pressure

Dr. Razzouk typically recommends blood work that measures red blood cells, thyroid hormone levels and cortisol levels. These will show anemia, a thyroid deficiency or an adrenal gland malfunction – common contributors to low blood pressure. She may also recommend an EKG and echocardiogram to measure heart function, which may also lead to low blood pressure.

Another cause of low blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension, occurs when a person changes positions, as in standing after sitting, and his or her blood pressure drops quickly and significantly, causing symptoms. While different from sustained low blood pressure, Dr. Razzouk says symptoms of this condition should also be evaluated.

People taking medication for high blood pressure may find themselves eventually suffering from low blood pressure, as they lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles. Dr. Razzouk advises reporting any unusual symptoms while on blood pressure medication to a doctor as soon as they occur.

Treating Low Blood Pressure

Once the cause of the low blood pressure is determined, Dr. Razzouk initiates treatment of the underlying problem. For anemia, she often prescribes iron supplements. If there is a hormonal cause, medications to regulate thyroid or adrenal gland function are given. Cardiovascular or neurological reasons for low blood pressure will be further evaluated by a cardiologist or neurologist. And for pregnant women, increased hydration most likely will solve the problem, but any unusual symptoms should be reported to a doctor.

For her patients who take medication to control high blood pressure, Dr. Razzouk adjusts their dosage to restore their blood pressure to a normal range.

When low blood pressure occurs, and no other underlying factor can be determined, Dr. Razzouk says increasing salt intake often helps regulate blood pressure to a level that eliminates symptoms. This should be done under the supervision of a doctor, however.

Report Unusual Symptoms

Overall, Dr. Razzouk says that low blood pressure is relatively easy to treat, if you pay attention to the signals your body sends you in the form of symptoms. “As with any condition, if you experience unusual symptoms, especially for an extended period of time, you should definitely seek medical attention,” she said. “Low blood pressure may be a symptom itself of an underlying condition that should be evaluated and treated to avoid long-term problems.”

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