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Low blood pressure, also known as hypotension, occurs when your blood pressure is much lower than the expected levels. This can either be a condition on its own or be a symptom of other underlying causes. Low blood pressure does not always come with symptoms, however if you do experience symptoms due to this, you may require medical attention.
Hypotension has two different definitions, depending on which form of low blood pressure you are experiencing. Absolute hypotension is when your resting blood pressure is below 90/60 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Neurally mediated hypotension is a form of low blood pressure that occurs when you are standing for long periods of time.
Orthostatic hypotension is when your blood pressure drops within three minutes of you standing up from a sitting position. To meet the requirements for orthostatic hypotension, your systolic blood pressure (the top number) must drop by 20 mmHg or more and your diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) must drop by 10 mmHg or more. Since this form happens with changes in posture, it is also referred to as postural hypotension.
You may have an increased risk of low blood pressure depending on your diet, age, and level of physical activity. Having a nutrient deficiency, such as not receiving enough folic acid or iron, can result in anemia, which may lead to low blood pressure. Blood sugar alterations, like those caused by diabetes, can also increase your risk of developing low blood pressure.
Hypotension can occur due to a wide variety of causes. For orthostatic hypotension, it occurs when you stand up too quickly and your body is unable to compensate with more blood flow to your brain. It can also be caused by central nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, because these conditions affect how your nervous system controls your blood pressure.
Other causes include low blood volume which can be caused by dehydration or blood loss from severe injuries, heart and lung conditions, and prescription medications. Life threatening conditions such as irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), pulmonary embolism, heart attacks, and a collapsed lung can also create low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can also be caused by alcohol or recreational drugs, pregnancy, or extreme temperatures.
Hypotension itself is very easy to diagnose, as it only consists of taking a blood pressure measurement. The difficulty lies in determining the underlying cause of your low blood pressure. Your doctor may order a blood or urine test to look for factors such as diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid or hormone problems, anemia, or pregnancy.
If your doctor suspects that a heart or lung condition is responsible for your hypotension, they may order imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, or echocardiograms. Diagnostic testing may also be necessary to rule out any specific heart problems, so you may require an electrocardiogram (EKG), exercise stress testing, or tilt table test.
To treat hypotension, the first step is determining the cause. If the underlying cause of this condition is treatable, then low blood pressure will typically resolve itself during treatment. If the cause of hypotension is not determined, treatment still exists to manage the condition, although it is only curable if there is an underlying cause that is curable.
Treatment for hypotension includes increasing blood volume, which can be done through IV fluids, plasma, or blood transfusions. Your doctor may also prescribe medications that cause your blood vessels to constrict, or medications that force your kidneys to retain fluid and salt in your body, which will help to manage low blood pressure.
The most common symptoms of hypotension occur due to your brain not receiving enough blood flow. These symptoms include dizziness or feeling lightheaded, nausea or vomiting, fainting, blurred or distorted vision, shallow breathing, fatigue, confusion or trouble concentrating, and agitation. If you experience an increase in symptoms or your symptoms are the result of taking prescription medications, contact your doctor.
If you are suffering from hypotension, you may experience some complications. These include falls and fall-related injuries since fainting is a common symptom, heart problems and stroke, and shock. Heart problems can occur because low blood pressure may cause your heart to pump faster or harder to try and compensate, which over time may lead to heart damage or even heart failure.
Stroke can occur due to blood not flowing as it should, which may cause blood clots. Shock can occur because your organs may begin receiving less blood, which can cause them to shut down due to limited oxygen and blood flow.
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Invasive therapies may also be used to treat an abnormal heart rhythm, such as electrical cardioversion which sends electrical impulses through your chest wall and allows normal heart rhythm to restart, or catheter ablation which disconnects the pathway of the abnormal rhythm. If your doctor determines that electrical devices are the best course of action, you may be given a permanent pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), or biventricular (B-V) pacemakers and defibrillators.
CVG offers a variety of services that can check and treat causes of fainting. At CVG, we perform stress tests that will observe blood flow and test for Atrial Fibrillation. There are three types of stress tests that we perform:
A treadmill test is a test in which you will walk on a treadmill that gets faster and steeper every 3 minutes. This will stress your heart so that our nurse or doctor can determine your EKG and blood pressure.
An echo test is performed before and after your treadmill test to determine how well your heart pumps blood.
A nuclear stress test is a treadmill test that is prefaced by an injection of medicine that shows the flow of blood to your heart.
We also offer cardiac catheterization, in which a catheter is inserted into the heart in order to take pictures and conduct tests. This procedure allows doctors to gain more information about your condition and suggest treatment options if the fainting episode is due to heart conditions.
If these tests determine a problem, we offer treatment solutions to fix several conditions. Learn more about our services here, or schedule an appointment to talk to our doctors.