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- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
Low blood pressure is generally considered a blood pressure reading lower than 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for the top number (systolic) or 60 mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic).
What's considered low blood pressure for one person might be OK for someone else. Low blood pressure might cause no noticeable symptoms, or it might cause dizziness and fainting. Sometimes, low blood pressure can be life-threatening.
The causes of low blood pressure range from dehydration to serious medical conditions. It's important to find out what's causing low blood pressure so that it can be treated, if necessary.
Types of low blood pressure include:
- Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension) . This is a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing from a sitting position or after lying down. Causes include dehydration, long-term bed rest, pregnancy, certain medical conditions and some medications. This type of low blood pressure is common in older adults.
- Postprandial hypotension. This drop in blood pressure occurs 1 to 2 hours after eating. It's most likely to affect older adults, especially those with high blood pressure or autonomic nervous system diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Eating small, low-carbohydrate meals, drinking more water, and avoiding alcohol might help reduce symptoms.
- Neurally mediated hypotension. This is a blood pressure drop that happens after standing for long periods. This type of low blood pressure mostly affects young adults and children. It might result from miscommunication between the heart and the brain.
- Multiple system atrophy with orthostatic hypotension. Also called Shy-Drager syndrome, this rare disorder affects the nervous system that controls involuntary functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and digestion. It's associated with having very high blood pressure while lying down.
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Low blood pressure (hypotension) symptoms may include:
- Blurred or fading vision
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Trouble concentrating
For some people, low blood pressure may be a sign of an underlying health condition, especially when it drops suddenly or occurs with symptoms.
A sudden fall in blood pressure can be dangerous. A change of just 20 mm Hg — a drop from 110 mm Hg systolic to 90 mm Hg systolic, for example — can cause dizziness and fainting. And big drops, such as those caused by uncontrolled bleeding, severe infections or allergic reactions, can be life-threatening.
Extreme low blood pressure can lead to a condition known as shock. Symptoms of shock include:
- Confusion, especially in older people
- Cold, clammy skin
- Decrease in skin coloration (pallor)
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Weak and rapid pulse
When to see a doctor
If you have symptoms of extreme low blood pressure (hypotension) or shock, seek emergency medical help.
Most health care providers consider blood pressure to be too low only if it causes symptoms. Occasional minor dizziness or lightheadedness can be caused by many things, such as spending too much time in the sun or in a hot tub. It's important to see a health care provider to get a correct diagnosis.
If you have consistently low blood pressure readings but feel fine, your provider may just monitor you during routine health checkups. It can be helpful to keep a record of your symptoms, when they occur and what you're doing at the time.
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Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood the heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in the arteries. A blood pressure measurement is given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). It has two numbers:
- Systolic pressure. The first (upper) number is the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
- Diastolic pressure. The second (bottom) number is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats.
The American Heart Association categorizes ideal blood pressure as normal. An ideal blood pressure is usually lower than 120/80 mm Hg .
Blood pressure varies throughout the day, depending on:
- Body position
- Food and drink
- Physical condition
- Time of day
Blood pressure is usually lowest at night and rises sharply on waking. Certain health conditions and use of medications may cause low blood pressure.
Conditions that can cause low blood pressure
Medical conditions that can cause low blood pressure include:
- Pregnancy. Changes during pregnancy cause blood vessels to expand rapidly. The changes may cause blood pressure to drop. Low blood pressure is common in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Blood pressure usually returns to pre-pregnancy levels after giving birth.
- Heart and heart valve conditions. A heart attack, heart failure, heart valve disease and an extremely low heart rate (bradycardia) can cause low blood pressure.
- Hormone-related diseases (endocrine disorders). Conditions affecting the parathyroid or adrenal glands, such as Addison's disease, may cause blood pressure to drop. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and, sometimes, diabetes also may lower blood pressure.
- Dehydration. When the body doesn't have enough water, the amount of blood in the body (blood volume) decreases. This can cause blood pressure to drop. Fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, overuse of diuretics and strenuous exercise can lead to dehydration.
- Blood loss. Losing a lot of blood, such as from an injury or internal bleeding, also reduces blood volume, leading to a severe drop in blood pressure.
- Severe infection (septicemia). When an infection in the body enters the bloodstream, it can lead to a life-threatening drop in blood pressure called septic shock.
- Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Symptoms of a severe allergic reaction include a sudden and dramatic drop in blood pressure.
- Lack of nutrients in the diet. Low levels of vitamin B-12, folate and iron can keep the body from producing enough red blood cells (anemia), which can lead to low blood pressure.
Medications that can cause low blood pressure
Some medications can cause low blood pressure, including:
- Water pills (diuretics), such as furosemide (Lasix) and hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide)
- Alpha blockers, such as prazosin (Minipress)
- Beta blockers, such as atenolol (Tenormin) and propranolol (Inderal, Innopran XL, Hemangeol)
- Drugs for Parkinson's disease, such as pramipexole (Mirapex) or those containing levodopa
- Certain types of antidepressants (tricyclic antidepressants), including doxepin (Silenor) and imipramine (Tofranil)
- Drugs for erectile dysfunction, including sildenafil (Revatio, Viagra) or tadalafil (Adcirca, Alyq, Cialis), particularly when taken with the heart medication nitroglycerin (Nitrostat, Nitro-Dur, Nitromist)
Anyone can have low blood pressure (hypotension). Risk factors for hypotension include:
- Age. Drops in blood pressure on standing or after eating occur primarily in adults older than 65. Neurally mediated hypotension primarily affects children and younger adults.
- Medications. Certain medications, including some blood pressure drugs, increase the risk of low blood pressure.
- Certain diseases. Parkinson's disease, diabetes and some heart conditions may increase risk of low blood pressure.
Potential complications of low blood pressure (hypotension) include:
- Injury from falls
Severely low blood pressure can reduce the body's oxygen levels, which can lead to heart and brain damage.
- Low blood pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/low-blood-pressure. Accessed Feb. 10, 2022.
- Understanding blood pressure readings. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings. Accessed Feb. 10, 2022.
- AskMayoExpert. Orthostatic hypotension. Mayo Clinic; 2021.
- Palma JA, et al. Mechanisms, causes, and evaluation of orthostatic hypotension. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 24, 2022.
- Low blood pressure: When blood pressure is too low. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/low-blood-pressure-when-blood-pressure-is-too-low. Accessed Feb. 10, 2022.
- Orthostatic hypotension. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/cardiovascular-disorders/symptoms-of-cardiovascular-disorders/orthostatic-hypotension. Accessed March 3, 2022.
- Palma JA, et al. Treatment of orthostatic and postprandial hypotension. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Jan. 24, 2022.
- Chadachan VM, et al. Understanding short-term blood-pressure-variability phenotypes: From concept to clinic practice. International Journal of General Medicine. 2018; doi:10.2147/IJGM.S164903.
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 2nd ed. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/our-work/physical-activity/current-guidelines. Accessed Jan. 24, 2022.
- AskMayoExpert. Physical activity (adult). Mayo Clinic; 2021.
- Laughlin EA, et al. Increased salt intake for orthostatic intolerance syndromes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Medicine. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.05.028.
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How Low Can You Go: Is Low Blood Pressure Dangerous?
Posted February 27, 2023 by Smita I Negi, MD
Each time you visit a doctor’s office, your blood pressure is probably taken. This is one of the many vital sign checks that helps your provider keep tabs on your health. Just as some people are prone to heart disease based on their genetics and family history, blood pressure is an important predictor of future heart disease. While the risks associated with high blood pressure are well known, blood pressure that’s too low also can cause problems.
Blood pressure is the force of blood flow against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. It’s measured using two numbers. Systolic, or the top number, measures the pressure of your blood as your heart beats. Diastolic, or the bottom number, measures your blood pressure when your heart rests between beats.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute , a normal blood pressure reading is when the systolic number is under 120 and the diastolic is less than 80 for a healthy adult. A reading of 90/60 is considered low. Low blood is called hypotension (say "hy-poh-TEN-shun")
Summa Health sheds light on the causes , symptoms, and types of low blood pressure and when to contact your doctor to seek treatment. Generally speaking, low blood pressure isn’t dangerous unless it causes troubling symptoms.
Cause and types of low blood pressure
- In a healthy individual, getting up quickly after you sit or lie down can cause a quick drop in blood pressure . However, in some individuals, it may be pronounced and persistent and is called Orthostatic hypotension . Dehydration can play a major role in this.
- Neurally mediated hypotension occurs when a person has been standing for a long period of time. This type of hypotension is more common in kids and young adults or when a person has fever or viral sickness.
- Postprandial hypotension , which occurs in older adults, causes dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting after eating. It is thought to be caused by blood pooling in the abdominal area to aid with digestion.
Other factors that can contribute to low blood pressure
- Pregnancy, especially during the first 24 weeks
- Medications like diuretics, beta blockers and antidepressants.
- Sepsis infections
- Anaphylactic allergic reactions
- A traumatic injury
- Heart conditions
- Nerve problems or a nervous system disorder
- Heat exhaustion
- Thyroid issues
People who are physically active or thin may be predisposed to low blood pressure. But for those who experience a sudden drop in blood pressure or have consistent low blood pressure readings that aren’t normal for them, this could signal a health problem.
Symptoms to watch for
Most people with hypotension have no symptoms.
Physicians look for patterns of chronic low blood pressure accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:
- Neck or back pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or feeling faint, tired, weak or confused
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Blurred vision
- Dehydration and unusual thirst
- Inability to concentrate
- Cold, clammy, pale or blue skin
- Heart palpitations, or a weak or rapid pulse
Diagnosis and work up:
Often people learn that they have low blood pressure for the first time at their physician’s office. Some may note new hypotension or chronic low blood pressure when they check BP at home. If you have symptoms noted above associated with low blood pressure, you should see a doctor.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, past medical history, medicines you take as well as any prior tests. You will have a physical exam, and other tests may be done depending on the suspected cause of low blood pressure. Management would then vary based on the cause of low blood pressure.
Treatment for low blood pressure
Treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and could include medication adjustments, drinking more fluids to prevent dehydration, modifying your diet or increasing salt intake. If your low blood pressure is a result of a sudden change in body position, try getting up slowly. If you stand for long periods, your provider may suggest wearing compression stockings to prevent blood from pooling in your legs to aid in circulation.
When to call the doctor
If your blood pressure drops too low, your body’s vital organs may not get enough oxygen and nutrients, which can lead to a medical emergency where your tissues and cells can become damaged or die. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience cold or clammy skin, rapid breathing, skin that has a bluish color, and/or a weak or rapid pulse.
For non-emergent symptoms, your doctor will perform tests to help identify the cause of your low blood pressure and work toward a solution.
Preventing low blood pressure and its symptoms
If you have been diagnosed with low blood pressure with symptoms, your doctor may suggest some simple ways to prevent symptoms. For example:
- Standing up slowly.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Wear compression stockings.
- Consider modifying workouts to seated exercises and supine (laying down) exercises
- Hold onto something when you stand up
- Counter-maneuvers such as tensing the leg muscles or crossing your legs while standing have been shown to reduce symptoms of postural drop in blood pressure to artificially increasing the blood pressure.
If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, sit down or lie down for a few minutes. Or you can sit down and put your head between your knees. This will help your blood pressure go back to normal and help your symptoms go away.
If your doctor prescribes medicine to help prevent a low blood pressure problem, take it exactly as prescribed.
About the Author
Smita I Negi, MD
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Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)
What is hypotension.
Hypotension is abnormally low blood pressure (lower than 90/60 mm Hg). If your blood pressure gets too low, it can cause dizziness, fainting or death.
Low blood pressure is not a condition that is usually treated except if it occurs in the elderly or occurs suddenly. In patients over 65, it could indicate the brain and limbs are not receiving adequate blood supply. If your blood pressure drops suddenly, it could deprive the brain of blood, which can lead to lightheadedness or dizziness.
When blood pressure drops suddenly after moving from a lying down to a sitting position, it is called postural hypotension or orthostatic hypotension.
When blood pressure drops from standing for a long period of time and leads to passing out, it is called vasovagal syncope.
Causes of hypotension
There are several causes of hypotension including:
- Prolonged bed rest
- Low or high body temperature
- Excessive blood loss
- Severe dehydration
- Blood infections such as sepsis
- Anaphylaxis allergic reaction
- Reactions to medication or alcohol
Risk factors for hypotension
- Age — your risk of low pressure increases as you age. Approximately 10-20% of people older than 65 have postural hypotension.
- Medications — medications, such as alpha blockers, can lower blood pressure.
- Other serious conditions — if you have diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, you have a higher risk for developing hypotension.
Symptoms of hypotension
Most doctors don’t consider hypotension serious unless it produces noticeable symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
If you have cold, clammy or pale skin, rapid or shallow breathing, weak or rapid pulse or confusion, you could be suffering from extreme hypotension, which could lead to death. Call 911 immediately if you suspect you are suffering from extreme hypotension.
Diagnosis of hypotension
One abnormally low blood pressure reading without any other symptoms will usually not cause concern. In most cases, your doctor will monitor you over a series of visits to evaluate if the low blood pressure is a consistent pattern. The physician may also order other diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the condition.
Tests that your doctor may order include:
- Blood tests — can help you determine if you have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperglycemia/diabetes (high blood sugar) or anemia (low red blood count).
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) — can detect the heart’s electrical signals to detect heart rhythm or structural abnormalities, as well as problems with the supply of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.
- Echocardiogram — can show detailed images of the heart to determine structure and function.
- Stress test — during a stress test, you will do some form of exercise to get your heart pumping faster and then you will be monitored with an echocardiogram or electrocardiogram.
- Tilt table test — will determine how your body reacts to changes in position; you will lie on a table that is then tilted to simulate moving from a lying to standing position.
Treatments of hypotension
Low blood pressure that doesn’t show any symptoms does not typically require treatment. For those who do have symptoms, you will be treated based on what the underlying cause of the low blood pressure is.
Home treatments include:
- Increasing water consumption and limiting alcohol consumption — water helps increase blood volume and prevent dehydration.
- Wearing compression socks — wearing compression socks promotes blood flow in the legs.
- Consuming more salt — sodium makes it harder for your body to rid itself of excess fluid and adds strain to the blood vessels resulting in raised blood pressure.
- Exercising regularly — regular exercise promotes blood flow.
If conservative treatments are not successful in increasing your blood pressure, your doctor may need to prescribe medication.
Drugs that treat hypotension include:
- Fludrocortisone — a drug which helps the body retain sodium in the kidney, which helps raise blood pressure.
- Midodrine — a drug that can increase blood pressure by activating receptors on the small arteries and veins.
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Low Blood Pressure - When Blood Pressure Is Too Low
How low is too low for blood pressure.
Within certain limits, the lower your blood pressure reading is, the better. While there is no specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered too low, a reading of less than 90/60 mm Hg is considered hypotension. Hypotension is the term for blood pressure that is too low. The condition is benign as long as none of the symptoms showing lack of oxygen are present.
Symptoms of low blood pressure
Most health care professionals will only consider chronically low blood pressure as dangerous if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms, such as:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting ( syncope )
- Neck or back pain
- Blurred vision
- Heart palpitations, or feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or too fast
Underlying causes of low blood pressure
Low blood pressure can occur with:
- Prolonged bed rest (orthostatic)
- Depression or Parkinson's disease
- Pregnancy: During the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, it’s common for blood pressure to drop.
- Decreases in blood volume: A decrease in blood volume can also cause blood pressure to drop. A significant loss of blood from major trauma, dehydration or severe internal bleeding reduces blood volume, leading to a severe drop in blood pressure.
- 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 .
- Heart problems: Among the heart conditions that can lead to low blood pressure are an abnormally low heart rate ( bradycardia ), problems with heart valves , heart attack and heart failure . Your heart may not be able to circulate enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
- Endocrine problems: Such problems include complications with hormone-producing glands in the body’s endocrine systems; specifically, an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease), low blood sugar and, in some cases, diabetes.
- Severe infection (septic shock): Septic shock can occur when bacteria leave the original site of an infection, most often in the lungs, abdomen or urinary tract, and enter the bloodstream. The bacteria then produce toxins that affect blood vessels, leading to a profound and life-threatening decline in blood pressure.
- 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.
- Neurally mediated syncope (hypotension): Unlike orthostatic hypotension, this disorder causes blood pressure to drop after standing for long periods, leading to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and fainting. This condition primarily affects young people and occurs because of a miscommunication between the heart and the brain.
- Nutritional deficiencies: A lack of the essential vitamins B-12 and folic acid can cause anemia, which in turn can lead to low blood pressure.
- Dehydration: Dehydration can sometimes cause blood pressure to drop. However, dehydration does not always cause low blood pressure but may cause other symptoms such as weakness, dizziness and fatigue
If you notice a sudden decline in blood pressure
A single lower-than-normal reading is usually not cause for alarm unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your health care professional. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.
Is low blood pressure related to low heart rate? Find out .
Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisors. See our editorial policies and staff .
Last Reviewed: May 25, 2023
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Low blood pressure (hypotension)
About low blood pressure, symptoms of low blood pressure, causes of low blood pressure, diagnosing low blood pressure, treating low blood pressure.
Low blood pressure – sometimes referred to as hypotension – is a condition where the arterial blood pressure is abnormally low. Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body.
The heart is a muscle that is designed to pump a constant supply of blood around the body. When your heart beats, it pushes the blood around your body through blood vessels called arteries and capillaries. When your heart rests in between beats, the blood flows back to your heart through a network of veins and capillaries.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force of the blood on the walls of the arteries as the blood flows through them. It is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
When your blood pressure is measured, two measurements are recorded during a single heartbeat. The two measurements are known as the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure.
- systolic pressure – is the pressure when your heart beats and squeezes blood into your arteries. At this stage, the pressure in your arteries is at its highest.
- diastolic pressure – is the pressure when your heart rests in between beats and the blood flows back to your heart through your veins. At this stage, the pressure in your arteries is at its lowest
Your blood pressure reading will be given as two numbers, with your systolic reading first, followed by your diastolic reading. If your systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg, and your diastolic blood pressure is 80 mmHg, your blood pressure is 120 over 80, which is commonly written as 120/80.
The highs and lows
As a general guide, the ideal blood pressure for a young, healthy adult is between 90/60 and 120/80. If you have a reading of 140/90, or more, you have high blood pressure (hypertension). This puts you at greater risk of serious health conditions, such as strokes or heart attacks.
Low blood pressure is also known as hypotension. People with a reading of around 90/60, or less, are commonly regarded as having low blood pressure. Some people who have low blood pressure experience symptoms as a result of it. There may be an underlying cause that could need treatment.
On its own, low blood pressure (hypotension) does not always cause symptoms. If you have low blood pressure and you do not have any symptoms, you do not require treatment.
However, low blood pressure can sometimes mean that there is not enough blood flowing to your brain and other vital organs. As a result, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- fainting (a sudden, temporary loss of consciousness)
- blurred vision
- palpitations (a rapid or irregular heartbeat)
- nausea (feeling like you are going to be sick)
- general weakness
If you experience the symptoms of hypotension after changing positions (for example, standing up), it is known as postural – or orthostatic – hypotension. If you experience these symptoms after eating, it is known as postprandial hypotension.
Postural or orthostatic hypotension
Postural or orthostatic hypotension occurs when your blood pressure falls after a sudden movement. For example, you may feel dizzy or faint after changing posture, such as sitting up from a lying position, or standing up from a sitting position. This may cause you to lose your balance and fall over. You may also feel light-headed, have blurred vision, or lose consciousness.
The symptoms of postural or orthostatic hypotension should only last a few minutes as your blood pressure adjusts to your new position. This type of low blood pressure tends to affect people more as they get older when it can lead to more frequent falls. Similar symptoms may also occur after exercise.
Your blood pressure can sometimes decrease (fall) after eating, causing dizziness, light-headedness, fainting and falls. This condition, known as postprandial hypotension, tends to occur more often in older people, particularly in those who have high blood pressure , or a condition such as Parkinson’s disease , or diabetes .
After a meal, your intestines need a large amount of blood for digestion. Your heart rate increases and the blood vessels in other parts of your body constrict (narrow) to help maintain blood pressure. If your heart rate does not increase enough, or if your blood vessels do not constrict enough to maintain blood pressure, your blood pressure will fall. This can then cause symptoms.
Throughout the day, your blood pressure can vary by between 30-40 mmHg (both systolic and diastolic) depending on what you are doing. Having a stressful week at work, the temperature outside, and even what you had for lunch could affect your blood pressure reading.
Each time that you have your blood pressure measured, it is important that the test is carried out under similar conditions to ensure that the results are consistent. If you have a low blood pressure reading, your GP will first consider the everyday causes that might have affected it, before considering the possible underlying causes.
Many factors have a daily, or sometimes even hourly, effect on your heart and circulation. Below are things that could affect your blood pressure and, in some cases, may cause low blood pressure.
- The time of day – your blood pressure falls overnight so it will be low in the morning.
- Your age – typically, blood pressure rises as you get older, although postural, or orthostatic, and postprandial hypotension are also more likely in the elderly.
- How stressed or relaxed you are – if you are stressed, your heart will beat faster and your blood pressure will increase, and the opposite if you are relaxed.
- How much exercise you do – initially, exercise will raise your blood pressure, but if you are healthy and exercise regularly, your blood pressure will be low when you are resting.
- Your temperature – if you are cold, your heartbeat will slow down, and your blood pressure will fall.
- If you have recently eaten – blood will be used for digesting food in your stomach, so the blood pressure elsewhere in your body will fall.
If your blood pressure is still considered low after taking into account everyday factors such as those listed above, there may be another cause. Some possibilities are explained below.
Some medication may cause hypotension as a side effect. This tends to be orthostatic, or postural hypotension (low blood pressure when you stand up or change position). Examples of medication that can cause hypotension include:
- beta-blockers – these may be prescribed after a problem with your heart or hypertension ( high blood pressure )
- alpha-blockers – these are prescribed to lower blood pressure for people with hypertension
- some antidepressants
Your GP will discuss any possible side effects with you when prescribing medication. While you are taking medication, your blood pressure will be carefully monitored if you are considered to be at risk of hypotension.
Serious illnesses or conditions
If you have an acute (short-term) illness, your blood pressure will be measured regularly because it is a good indicator of the severity of your illness. A heart condition, such as heart failure or a heart attack, can also cause low blood pressure, as your heart may not be able to pump blood around your body.
Autonomic disorders affect your autonomic nervous system and they can cause hypotension. Your autonomic nervous system is part of your nervous system (the network of cells that carry information around your body). It controls the bodily functions that you do not actively think about, such as sweating, digestion and the beating of your heart.
The autonomic nervous system also controls the widening and narrowing of your blood vessels. If there is a problem with it, your blood vessels could remain too wide, causing low blood pressure. In particular, autonomic disorders tend to cause orthostatic hypotension.
Some examples of autonomic disorders are:
- diabetes mellitus – a long-term (chronic) condition caused by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood,
- Parkinson’s disease – a chronic condition that affects the way the brain coordinates body movements
- multiple system atrophy – a disorder that causes the brain signals to the muscles and limbs responsible for movement to deteriorate.
The adrenal glands are two small glands that are located just above your kidneys. They produce hormones that control your blood pressure and maintain the balance of salt and water in your body. One of the hormones they produce is called aldosterone, which is responsible for controlling the amount of salt in your body.
If your adrenal glands become damaged – for example through an infection or a tumour – the production of aldosterone may be reduced, resulting in a loss of salt from your body. This can cause dehydration which, in turn, leads to low blood pressure.
If a problem with your adrenal glands is diagnosed, it can be treated by increasing the amount of aldosterone in your body. This could also be a symptom of Addison’s disease (a condition in which the adrenal glands cannot produce enough of the hormones cortisol and aldosterone). Addison’s disease can also be treated with medication.
Serious injuries and shock
Low blood pressure can also be caused by serious injuries or burns, particularly if you have lost a lot of blood. This can mean that there is less blood being pumped around your body. Low blood pressure can also occur if you go into shock after having a serious injury.
Other kinds of shock are described below.
Septic shock and toxic shock syndrome
Septic shock and toxic shock syndrome are caused by bacterial infections. The bacteria attack the walls of the small blood vessels, causing them to leak fluid from the blood into the surrounding tissues. This causes a significant drop in blood pressure (severe hypotension).
Anaphylactic shock, or anaphylaxis, is caused by an allergic reaction to something – for example, a wasp sting or a peanut. During an allergic reaction, your body produces a large amount of a chemical called histamine, which causes your blood vessels to widen and leads to a sudden, severe drop in blood pressure.
Cardiogenic shock occurs when your heart cannot supply enough blood to your body, so your blood pressure drops. This can happen during a heart attack.
Other possible causes of low blood pressure are:
- Rare nerve conditions – if the nerves in your legs are affected, you may experience a severe drop in blood pressure when you stand up (postural or orthostatic hypotension).
- Increasing age – as you get older, your arteries can become stiffer. If they do not constrict (get smaller), your blood pressure may drop, particularly when you stand up.
- Pregnancy – during the early to mid stages of pregnancy, low blood pressure is fairly common.
- Prolonged bed rest – low blood pressure may possibly occur as a result of moving less and having overall less nervous system activity.
- Dehydration – low blood pressure may occur following particularly severe dehydration from vomiting and diarrhoea because the lack of water and salt in your body will reduce the volume of your blood.
- Your genes – some research has suggested that low blood pressure is genetic. If your parents have low blood pressure, it is possible that you could inherit it from them.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) can be easily diagnosed by measuring your blood pressure.
Measuring blood pressure
A blood pressure reading is taken using two measurements. The first measurement is known as systolic, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pushes the blood around your body. The second measurement is known as diastolic, which is the pressure in your arteries when your heart refills with blood in between heartbeats. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressures are measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
Your GP, or practice nurse, will use a device known as a sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. This device has an inflatable cuff and a scale of mercury, like a thermometer, as a pressure gauge. The cuff is placed around your upper arm and inflated to restrict the flow of blood in your arm. The air is then slowly released from the cuff.
Your GP or practice nurse will watch the mercury pressure gauge and listen to your blood flow in the main artery of your arm using a stethoscope. Upon hearing your heart beat, the systolic pressure will be recorded. When the sound disappears, the diastolic pressure will be recorded.
Alternatively, a digital sphygmomanometer may be used. This measures your pulse using electrical sensors and takes blood pressure readings automatically. Blood pressure testing kits are also commercially available.
After you have had your blood pressure taken, your GP or nurse will give you your systolic reading first, followed by your diastolic reading. If your systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg and your diastolic blood pressure is 80 mmHg, you will be told that your blood pressure is 120 over 80, which is commonly written as 120/80.
What is low blood pressure?
As a general guide, low blood pressure is a reading of 90/60 or less. However, it is not necessary for both your systolic and diastolic readings to be in this range for it to be considered low blood pressure. For example, a reading of 80/65 would be considered low because the systolic number is in the low range, and 100/55 would also be considered as low because the diastolic number is in the low range.
If you have low blood pressure according to this guide, you do not need to worry. Having low blood pressure is considered healthy as it protects you from the risks and diseases of high blood pressure. You will only need to have treatment if you are experiencing symptoms as a result of your low blood pressure.
If your symptoms of low blood pressure mostly occur when you change position (postural or orthostatic hypotension), then your blood pressure may be measured before and after you move. For example, your blood pressure may be measured while you are sitting down and again while you are standing up.
Depending on what your seated blood pressure was, if your systolic reading drops by between 15-30 mmHg when you stand up, you may have orthostatic hypotension.
Your GP or practice nurse will usually be able to diagnose low blood pressure very easily. However, determining the reason for low blood pressure can be more difficult.
If you have an underlying condition that is causing low blood pressure, it is likely that you will have other symptoms as well. You should discuss these with your GP who may recommend that you have further tests.
If you have low blood pressure (hypotension), but you do not have any symptoms, you do not require treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms, your GP will try to establish the underlying cause of your hypotension in order to determine what treatment is necessary.
If you are taking medication, and your GP suspects that it may be causing low blood pressure, they will probably recommend a change of medication or alter your dose. This includes medication to treat high blood pressure (hypertension) and medication to treat Parkinson’s disease .
Your blood pressure will be monitored while you are taking medication and any changes will be noted by your GP or practice nurse. If you are experiencing side effects from taking medication, you should discuss this with your GP.
Underlying illnesses or conditions
If your GP suspects that a disorder – such as a heart condition, adrenal gland failure or a nerve condition – is causing your low blood pressure, you may be referred to hospital for further tests and treatment.
If adrenal gland failure is found to be causing your low blood pressure, your GP may prescribe fludrocortisone to replace the missing hormone, aldosterone. This will usually be in tablet form and will need to be taken for life.
If a nerve condition is causing your low blood pressure, it can be more difficult to treat. You may be prescribed medication in order to help stimulate your nervous system.
Fluids and salt
Dehydration – when the water and salt content of your body is reduced – can cause low blood pressure. Increasing your fluid and salt intake can easily treat this. Ensuring that you drink enough fluid – at least eight glasses a day – will help with hypotension. This is because more fluids will increase the volume of your blood, and having more blood in your arteries will increase your blood pressure.
While people who have high blood pressure are usually advised to restrict their salt intake, if you have low blood pressure, you may be advised to include more salt in your diet. Your GP will be able to advise you about how much additional salt you need, and whether you can add salt to your usual food, or if you need to take salt tablets.
The following general advice will help to limit your symptoms of your hypotension, particularly postural or orthostatic hypotension.
- Stand up gradually, particularly first thing in the morning. It may also be useful to try some other physical movements first to increase your heart rate and the flow of blood around your body. For example, stretching in bed before you get up, or crossing and uncrossing your legs if you are seated and about to stand.
- Wear support stockings – sometimes called compression stockings. These are tight-fitting elastic socks or tights. They provide extra pressure to your feet, legs and abdomen, which will help stimulate your circulation and increase your blood pressure.
- Raise the head of your bed or use extra pillows under your head. This will increase the flow of blood in your body and will also make it easier when you need to get up.
- Avoid caffeine at night and limit your alcohol intake – this will help you to avoid dehydration, which can cause low blood pressure.
- Eat small frequent meals, rather than large ones – this will help you to prevent postprandial hypotension (low blood pressure after you have eaten). Lying down after eating or sitting still for a while may also help.
Very few people are prescribed medication for hypotension. The symptoms of hypotension can be usually be treated by making these small changes to your lifestyle and, in particular, by increasing your fluid and salt intake.
If medication is necessary, it will usually be medicines to expand the volume of your blood, or to constrict (narrow) your arteries. By increasing your blood, or decreasing your arteries, your blood pressure will increase, as there will be more blood flowing through a smaller space.
Source: Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland - Opens in new browser window
Last updated: 09 November 2023
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- Low Blood Pressure
Low Blood Pressure Low Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your artery as the heart pumps blood. It is usually described as two numbers: systolic and diastolic . The numbers record blood pressure in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), with systolic listed above diastolic.
For most adults, a normal blood pressure is usually less than 120/80 mm Hg. Low blood pressure is blood pressure that is lower than 90/60 mm Hg.
Some people have low blood pressure all the time, and it is normal for them. Other people experience a sudden drop in blood pressure or have low blood pressure that may be linked to a health problem. This can be dangerous, as it could mean your heart, brain, or other vital organs are not getting enough blood flow and you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke .
What causes low blood pressure?
Many systems of the body, including organs, hormones, and nerves, regulate blood pressure. For example, the autonomic nervous system sends the “fight-or-flight” signal that, depending on the situation, tells the heart and other systems in the body to increase or decrease blood pressure. Problems with the autonomic nervous system, such as in Parkinson’s disease, can cause low blood pressure.
Other causes of low blood pressure include:
- Blood loss from an injury that causes a sudden drop in blood pressure
- Heart problems such as arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- Medicines to treat high blood pressure , depression, or Parkinson’s
Older adults also have a higher risk for symptoms of low blood pressure, such as falling, fainting, or dizziness upon standing up or after a meal. Older adults are more likely to develop low blood pressure as a side effect of medicines taken to control high blood pressure .
What are the symptoms?
For many people, low blood pressure goes unnoticed. Others may feel symptoms such as:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling tired or weak
- Blurry vision
- Neck or back pain
- Heart palpitations, or feelings that your heart is skipping a beat, fluttering, or beating too hard or too fast
What should you do if you have symptoms?
Sitting down may relieve the symptoms. If your blood pressure drops too low, your body’s vital organs do not get enough oxygen and nutrients. When this happens, low blood pressure can lead to shock , which requires immediate medical attention. Signs of shock include cold and sweaty skin, rapid breathing, a blue skin tone, or a weak and rapid pulse. Call 9-1-1 if you notice signs of shock in yourself or someone else.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will use a blood pressure test to diagnose low blood pressure. Other tests may include blood, urine, or imaging tests and a tilt table test if you faint often.
How is it treated?
You may not need treatment for low blood pressure. Depending on your symptoms, treatment may include drinking more fluids to prevent dehydration, taking medicines to raise your blood pressure, or adjusting medicines that cause low blood pressure.
Your doctor may talk to you about lifestyle changes, including changing what and how you eat and how you sit and stand up. Your doctor may also recommend compression stockings if you stand for long periods.
Learn more about Low Blood Pressure from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
When Is Low Blood Pressure Too Low? Hypotension and More
Some people naturally have low blood pressure, known as hypotension. However, when high blood pressure suddenly becomes low blood pressure, it could be cause for concern.
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, may be a sign of good health and of a decreased risk of heart disease . But not always. At times, continually low blood pressure or a sudden drop in blood pressure can lead to worrisome symptoms and even serious health problems.
Understanding Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)
A blood pressure reading contains two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the top, or first, number in your blood pressure reading ; it indicates the pressure within your arteries when your heart pumps out blood. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number, showing the pressure in your arteries while your heart is filling with blood.
If your blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower, it’s considered normal. Generally, if the blood pressure reading is under 90/60 mm Hg, it is abnormally low and is referred to as hypotension. Some adults regularly have blood pressure in the hypotensive range but have no symptoms and do not require treatment. In serious cases, though, low blood pressure can result in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain and other essential organs, which can eventually lead to life-threatening shock.
6 Ways to Prevent High Blood Pressure
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Anyone can develop hypotension, but certain groups of people are more likely to experience it.
There are also different types of low blood pressure, notes the Mayo Clinic . For instance, orthostatic (positional) hypotension occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down. It is more common in older adults.
Typically, “your body has certain compensatory mechanisms to prevent your blood pressure from falling when you stand up,” explains Willie E. Lawrence, MD , a cardiologist with the Lakeland Care Network in St. Joseph, Michigan. But, he adds, “orthostatic hypotension is a problem for some people because these reflexes that should occur don’t occur.” Dehydration or blood loss can also cause orthostatic hypotension.
Symptoms of Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure)
Most doctors do not consider hypotension a problem unless it is associated with certain signs and symptoms, per the American Heart Association (AHA) :
- Confusion or problems concentrating
- Neck or back pain
- Blurry vision
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
What Is a Dangerously Low Blood Pressure Number?
According to the AHA , there is no specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered too low, although anything under the 90/60 mm Hg reading noted above is the clinical definition of hypotension. However, when low blood pressure is accompanied by any of the dangerous symptoms listed above, it is time to seek medical care.
When Low Blood Pressure Can Strike
Some people have naturally low blood pressure, and they don’t experience any symptoms. But for people who are used to having high blood pressure, a sudden decrease in blood pressure can signal a problem and can cause the symptoms listed above.
Per the AHA , an episode of hypotension is more likely to occur under these conditions:
- Resuming an upright posture after bed rest for a long period of time
- Being in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy
- Losing a large amount of blood
- Being dehydrated
- Taking certain medications, such as blood-pressure-lowering medications , heart medications, Parkinson’s disease medications, tricyclic antidepressants , or medications to treat erectile dysfunction
- Having a heart problem, such as a very slow heartbeat, heart valve problems, heart attack, or heart failure
- Having an endocrine problem, such as hypothyroidism , parathyroid disease, Addison’s disease (an adrenal gland disorder), low blood sugar , or diabetes
- Having a severe infection that enters your bloodstream
- Experiencing anaphylaxis , a life-threatening allergic reaction
- Having a neural disorder that affects your blood pressure
- Having a nutrient deficiency, such as low vitamin B12 and folic acid levels
Can Low Blood Pressure Make You Tired?
Low blood pressure can cause fatigue — that feeling of overwhelming tiredness and lack of energy. Research has found an association between low blood pressure and chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition characterized by profound fatigue, pain, and sleep abnormalities that are often made worse by exertion.
There is no cure for this type of fatigue, but doctors may suggest treating underlying causes, such as sleep disorders or mental health issues. Treating low blood pressure with dietary changes and proper physical activity can also help.
When Do You Need Medical Care for Hypotension?
If your blood pressure is always on the low side and you do not have any of the dangerous symptoms, there is usually no cause for concern. Similarly, if you have a single at-home blood pressure reading that is abnormally low without any symptoms, you probably do not need to see your doctor. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall over time, and your body is usually able to get your blood pressure back to normal.
But, says Dr. Lawrence, “when you sense there’s a recurrent problem, or there’s no clear explanation for what’s happened, you need to seek medical advice."
If your blood pressure drops suddenly and you are experiencing symptoms like dizziness, you should call your healthcare provider. They can assess your situation and rule out underlying problems, such as internal bleeding, serious infection, or an allergic reaction.
Treatment for hypotension will depend on the cause of the low blood pressure. Immediate steps might include the following, according to the Mayo Clinic :
- Wear compression stockings
- Drink more water
- Avoid low blood pressure triggers like prolonged standing and other positional changes
After evaluation, a doctor may make these recommendations:
- Avoid alcohol
- Adjust your diet
- Adjust your medications (possibly lowering dosages of blood-pressure-lowering drugs)
- Take blood-pressure-raising medications, such as fludrocortisone (Florinef) and midodrine (ProAmatine)
People who experience shock related to hypotension will need emergency treatment to restore blood flow to their organs and raise their blood pressure back to normal.
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 antihypertensive [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.”
Keep track of your blood pressure readings, even if you don’t have any health issues, so that you know what your personal normal reading is. And if your blood pressure is being monitored, talk to your doctor about the blood pressure target range that’s best for you.
Additional reporting by Ashley Welch .
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
Everyday Health follows strict sourcing guidelines to ensure the accuracy of its content, outlined in our editorial policy . We use only trustworthy sources, including peer-reviewed studies, board-certified medical experts, patients with lived experience, and information from top institutions.
- Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension): Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic . May 14, 2022.
- Low Blood Pressure — When Blood Pressure Is Too Low. American Heart Association . May 25, 2023.
- Bozzini S, Albergati A, Capelli E, et al. Cardiovascular Characteristics of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Biomedical Reports . January 2018.
- Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension): Diagnosis and Treatment. Mayo Clinic . May 14, 2022.