Postural hypotension occurs most frequently in people who are taking drugs to control high blood pressure (hypertension). It can also be related to pregnancy, strong emotions, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), or diabetes. The elderly are particularly affected, especially those who have high blood pressure or autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
There are even more medication types that can lower blood pressure. Some of these are alpha blockers, vasodilators, and central alpha agonists. Your doctor may prescribe these medications if other medications have been ineffective or if you have another condition along with hypertension. Side effects can include fast pulse, palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea, or headaches.
However, sometimes a high reading can occur temporarily and then your numbers will return to normal. If your blood pressure measures at this level, your doctor will likely take a second reading after a few minutes have passed. A second high reading indicates that you’ll need treatment either as soon as possible or immediately depending on whether or not you have any of the symptoms described above.
If you have high blood pressure, it is important to get routine medical care and to follow your prescribed treatment plan, which will include heart-healthy lifestyle changes and possibly medicines. Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can prevent high blood pressure, reduce elevated blood pressure, help control existing high blood pressure, and prevent complications, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, vascular dementia, or chronic kidney disease.
About This Image: Chart showing potential causes of low blood pressure The risk of low and high blood pressure commonly increases as a person ages due in part to changes during the aging process. The flow of blood to a person's heart muscle and brain declines as a person ages, many times as a result of plaque buildup in their blood vessels. Approximately 10-20% of people over the age of 65 experience postural hypotension. While the causes of low blood pressure may not always be clear, it might be associated with things such as:
Measuring blood pressure in both the lying (supine) and standing positions usually is the first step in diagnosing low blood pressure. In patients with symptomatic low blood pressure, there often is a marked drop in blood pressure upon standing, and patients may even develop orthostatic symptoms. The heart rate often increases. The goal is to identify the cause of the low blood pressure. Sometimes the causes are readily apparent (such as loss of blood due to trauma, or sudden shock after receiving X-ray dyes containing iodine). At other times, the cause may be identified by testing:
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Orthostatic hypotension symptoms: Going from a sitting or lying position to a standing position often brings out symptoms of low blood pressure. This occurs because standing causes blood to "settle" in the veins of the lower body, and this can lower the blood pressure. If the blood pressure is already low, standing can make the low pressure worse, to the point of causing symptoms. The development of lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting upon standing caused by low blood pressure is called orthostatic hypotension. Normal individuals are able to compensate rapidly for the low pressure created by standing with the responses discussed previously and do not develop orthostatic hypotension.
To control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you adopt heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating patterns like the DASH eating plan, alone or with medicines. Controlling or lowering blood pressure can also help prevent or delay high blood pressure complications, such as chronic kidney disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and possibly vascular dementia.
Certain medications: A number of drugs can cause low blood pressure, including diuretics and other drugs that treat hypertension; heart medications such as beta blockers; drugs for Parkinson’s disease; tricyclic antidepressants; erectile dysfunction drugs, particularly in combination with nitroglycerine; narcotics and alcohol. Other prescription and over-the-counter drugs may cause low blood pressure when taken in combination with high blood pressure medications.
Hypertension (HTN or HT), also known as high blood pressure (HBP), is a long-term medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. High blood pressure typically does not cause symptoms. Long-term high blood pressure, however, is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, atrial fibrillation, peripheral vascular disease, vision loss, chronic kidney disease, and dementia.
The measurements must have been obtained from at least two careful readings on at least two different occasions. What does careful mean? The guidelines provide a six-step tutorial on how, exactly, to correctly measure a blood pressure, which, admittedly, is sorely needed. My patients often have their first blood pressure taken immediately after they have rushed in through downtown traffic, as they’re sipping a large caffeinated beverage. While we always knew this could result in a falsely elevated measurement, it is now officially poor clinical technique resulting in an invalid reading.
Medicines are available if these changes do not help control your blood pressure within 3 to 6 months. Diuretics help rid your body of water and sodium. ACE inhibitors block the enzyme that raises your blood pressure. Other types of medicines— beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and other vasodilators—work in different ways, but their overall effect is to help relax and widen your blood vessels and reduce the pressure inside the vessel. [See also the free government publication “Medicines to Help You: High Blood Pressure” (PDF) from the US Food and Drug Administration.]
These guidelines help guide healthcare practices, and can be related to patient reimbursement and healthcare coverage. The tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD-10, is the set of codes used to designate specific health conditions and allow for reimbursement through health insurance programs.
A single lower-than-normal reading is not cause for alarm, unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience any dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.
Most commonly high blood pressure causes no symptoms at all. This means that people with high blood pressure can be having damage occur to their heart, kidneys, eyes, and circulation without feeling badly! It is very important, therefore, to have blood pressure testing as part of the routine physical examination. However, in people with uncomplicated high blood pressure, they may experience
One especially important cause of low blood pressure is orthostatic hypotension, which is sometimes referred to as postural hypotension. This happens when blood pressure drops rapidly during changes in body position—usually when changing from sitting to standing—inducing classic signs that the blood pressure is too low, like dizziness, blurry vision, and fainting.
Vasovagal reaction is a common condition in which a healthy person temporarily develops low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and sometimes fainting. A vasovagal reaction typically is brought on by emotions of fear or pain such as having blood drawn, starting an intravenous infusion, or by gastrointestinal upset. Vasovagal reactions are caused by activity of the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system, especially the vagus nerve, which releases hormones that slow the heart and widen the blood vessels. The vagus nerve also controls digestive tract function and senses activity in the digestive system. Thus, some people can have a vasovagal reaction from straining at a bowel movement or vomiting.
Recurrent headaches: Headaches are fairly common among people with or without hypertension. Some people with hypertension notice changes or worsening of headaches when medications are skipped or when the blood pressure becomes higher than usual. Headaches associated with hypertension can be mild, moderate, or severe and can be of a throbbing nature.
Before measuring your blood pressure, do not smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before the test. Rest for at least five minutes before the measurements and sit still with your back straight and supported. Feet should be flat on the floor and not crossed. Your arm should also be supported on a flat surface like a table with the upper arm at heart level.
Unlike high blood pressure symptoms, which are poorly defined and often totally absent, low blood pressure symptoms tend to be more upfront and easily recognizable. The development of symptoms is often a warning sign of a potentially serious underlying disorder. Generally speaking, your blood pressure would need to fall pretty dramatically before symptoms develop.