A nurse takes your blood pressure at your annual physical. The numbers are recorded and the checkup continues. But do you know where on the blood pressure chart your levels are? Are they healthy? Too low? Too high, meaning you have hypertension? If you have high blood pressure or are heading in that direction, you should know that hypertension is among the primary enlarged heart causes, and a major risk factor for heart failure.
Postural hypotension can be treated with changes in diet such as increasing water and salt intake,* increasing intake of caffeinated beverages (because caffeine constricts blood vessels), using compression stockings to compress the leg veins and reduce the pooling of blood in the leg veins, and in some patients, the use of a medication called midodrine (ProAmatine). The problem with midodrine is that while it increases blood pressure in the upright position, the supine blood pressure may become too high, thus increasing the risk of strokes. Mayo Clinic researchers found that a medication used to treat muscle weakness in myasthenia gravis called pyridostigmine (Mestinon) increases upright blood pressure but not supine blood pressure. Pyridostigmine, an anticholinesterase medication, works on the autonomic nervous system, especially when a person is standing up. Side effects include minor abdominal cramping or increased frequency of bowel movements.
tilt table test – usually recommended if your doctor suspects you might have orthostatic hypotension or NMH (During this diagnostic test, a person lies on a table and then the table is tilted to raise the upper part of their body. This simulates the change in position from sitting or lying down to standing up. People with orthostatic hypotension or NMH may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even faint when their position changes.)
Some people have low blood pressure all the time. They have no symptoms and their low readings are normal for them. In other people, blood pressure drops below normal because of a medical condition or certain medicines. Some people may have symptoms of low blood pressure when standing up too quickly. Low blood pressure is a problem only if it causes dizziness, fainting or in extreme cases, shock.
It’s important to determine whether your low blood pressure is “a primary problem or secondary problem,” notes Lawrence. A primary problem means that the body’s reflexes are not working as they should. Secondary causes mean that the low blood pressure is a result of things like dehydration or the effects of certain medications. “Some anti-hypertensive [medications] are more likely to cause hypotension than others, and a lot of it is dose-dependent,” says Lawrence. “In most people, there will be some easily identifiable secondary cause, or some easy solution to what may even be a chronic problem that has no secondary cause, and that’s why it’s important to see your doctor, so they can make an appropriate assessment.”
High blood pressure is classified as either primary (essential) high blood pressure or secondary high blood pressure. About 90–95% of cases are primary, defined as high blood pressure due to nonspecific lifestyle and genetic factors. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk include excess salt in the diet, excess body weight, smoking, and alcohol use. The remaining 5–10% of cases are categorized as secondary high blood pressure, defined as high blood pressure due to an identifiable cause, such as chronic kidney disease, narrowing of the kidney arteries, an endocrine disorder, or the use of birth control pills.
Allergic reaction (anaphylaxis): Anaphylactic shock is a sometimes-fatal allergic reaction that can occur in people who are highly sensitive to drugs such as penicillin, to certain foods such as peanuts or to bee or wasp stings. This type of shock is characterized by breathing problems, hives, itching, a swollen throat and a sudden, dramatic fall in blood pressure.