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What causes low blood pressure?

By Jayne Morgan, M.D.
Executive Director of Health and Community Education

You’ve probably heard of hypertension, or high blood pressure. You also know high blood pressure is not very good for you. But did you know low blood pressure carries risks as well?

What is low blood pressure?

For most adults, a normal blood pressure is usually less than 120/80 mm/Hg, while low blood pressure (or hypotension) is generally anything below 90/60 mmHg.

While it’s true some people have low blood pressure all the time and it could be normal for them, it could also be a sign of other serious medical problems.

So, how do you know the difference between “normal for you” and a possible medical problem, and when should you worry? Generally, it’s not a problem as long as you are healthy and show no signs or symptoms of low blood pressure, such as:

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Blurred vision

  • Lack of concentration

  • Depression

How common is low blood pressure? 

This is a difficult number to gauge as hypotension can be common without any symptoms.  However, postural hypotension or POTS (dizziness when you go from a lying or seated position to a standing position) becomes more and more common as you get older. Approximately 10 to 20% of people over the age of 65 have some form of this.

What causes low blood pressure?

There are many causes of low blood pressure, especially if you are symptomatic. These include:

  • Heart problems

  • Hormone imbalances (such as thyroid disease, parathyroid disease or Addison’s disease)

  • Medications (such as beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, diuretics, some antidepressants and Viagra)

  • Side effects of medications (talk with your doctor or other health care provider if you are on a new drug or dosage and are experiencing lightheadedness as these could be side effects of the drugs)

  • Parkinson’s disease (the disease itself, as well as the drugs used to treat the condition)

  • Spinal cord injuries

  • Sepsis/infections

  • Dehydration

  • Nutritional deficiencies (such as B12 and folate)

  • Stress

  • Allergic reactions (anaphylaxis is the most severe form and can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure)

  • Pregnancy

  • Advancing age as well as diseases associated with aging (such as Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease and Parkinson’s disease can affect the nerves that assist in the regulation of blood pressure)

  • Heat exhaustion or heat stroke

  • POTS (postural orthostatic syndrome)

  • Drop in blood volume (from trauma or internal bleeding)

Is low blood pressure contagious? 

No, you cannot pass low blood pressure to someone else or catch it from anyone.

How is low blood pressure treated? 

Treatment usually starts by finding out why it’s happening (especially if you are symptomatic), then addressing the underlying cause. The blood pressure generally autocorrects from there. The most important thing is to identify the underlying cause and correct it.

How to prevent low blood pressure

Well, it turns out that reducing your risk is easier said than done. The better strategy is to avoid circumstances under your control that could be contributing factors, such as illicit drug use and over-the-counter supplements, remedies and herbals that could lower your blood pressure.

Remember, low blood pressure (hypotension) can be just as dangerous as high blood pressure (hypertension). Stay in the know, focus on your better health and always seek medical advice for unexplained symptoms.

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