Hypotension (low blood pressure) is the lesser-known cousin of one of America’s major public health issues, hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypotension is less common than hypertension, and usually merits concern only when symptoms interfere with day-to-day life. If you have hypotension, it’s not bad news, per se, but educating yourself about is key. Protect your health by knowing when to consult a doctor for treatment. Here’s what you need to know.
What is low blood pressure?
Blood pressure measures how forcefully blood moves through our arteries. Systolic pressure measures blood pressure when the heart beats, and diastolic measures pressure while the heart is between beats, at rest and therefore filling with blood.
Low blood pressure is defined as a systolic and diastolic pressure reading of 90/60 (or “90 over 60”), or less. By contrast, “normal” blood pressure is around 120/80.
In healthy adults, low blood pressure is generally not a concern. It’s actually very common among athletes, and a sign of good cardiovascular efficiency, says Sonia Anand, MD, associate professor of cardiology at McMaster University in Canada.
There are some situations, however, in which hypotension can be a concern.
When is hypotension a problem?
Regular hypotension is not an issue if you’re an adult in good health, who does not experience any negative symptoms, says Dr. Anand. But if low blood pressure is unexpected and sudden (the result of an injury, blood loss, anaphylaxis, or any other acute condition), or in any of the following instances, a doctor visit is essential:
• You experience lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or confusion
Why: “Symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting spells are a concern because of the potential for harm should they occur while someone’s doing a critical task like driving a car, working with machinery, or caring for a young child,” says Dr. Anand.
Your doctor can check to ensure your low blood pressure isn’t a sign of any other conditions, and can suggest lifestyle changes that may reduce symptoms (such as standing up slowly after sitting, drinking more water, avoiding alcohol or caffeine, and wearing compression stockings).
• You are a senior citizen
Why: Blood pressure regulation can decline with age or other medication you’re on, so it’s important your doctor assess your overall health, diet, and medication regimen.
• You are pregnant
Why: A drop in blood pressure is common during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. As with symptomatic hypotension, the primary concern is the harm that could occur if you faint and/or fall, hurting yourself and possibly your baby. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor during prenatal checkups, if symptoms worsen.
• You are on certain types of prescription medication
Why: Certain drugs are associated with postural hypotension. They include medications used to treat high blood pressure and Parkinson’s disease, as well as Viagra and tricylic antidepressants. A doctor can reassess your drug regimen or suggest other changes that may reduce the side effects of your hypotension.
Have Chronic Hypotension? How to Live Well
Bottom line: If low blood pressure hasn’t caused you any negative symptoms, relax.
“It’s for good reason that hypertension gets all the attention and public awareness efforts. It’s a major risk factor for heart attack and strokes. Hypotension with symptoms is a concern, but without symptoms, anyone with a blood pressure of 90/60 is fine to carry on as they’ve been doing,” says Dr. Anand.
The best way to maintain your overall health is to eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and avoid smoking cigarettes and over-indulgence in alcohol. Proper hydration is important for anyone, but “people prone to low blood pressure with symptoms should be especially aware of their fluid intake. For example, during hot sunny weather, or when playing sports, it’s important to maintain a normal fluid balance, by drinking lots of water, or a drink with sodium, like a bottled sports drink,” says Dr. Anand.