Low Blood Pressure: The Risks and Benefits
While most people know the risks associated with high blood pressure, having blood pressure that is too low can also cause problems. Blood pressure is usually recorded as two numbers: the pressure when the heart beats (systolic pressure) over the pressure when the heart is at rest (diastolic pressure).
Once blood pressure falls below 90/60 (up to 120/80 is considered normal blood pressure) it is considered too low.
Many people live with low blood pressure without experiencing any symptoms, but being able to recognize symptoms such as dizziness, fainting or shock can help with knowing when to seek medical attention. A drop in blood pressure can be caused by certain medical conditions or medications, or even by standing up too quickly. If one's numbers are consistently low, it is important to consult a doctor for monitoring as this could indicate more serious problems.
Low Blood Pressure Explained
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Both the active and resting phases of the heartbeat are measured. Normal blood pressure is generally considered to be lower than 120/80 mm Hg. Blood pressure changes throughout the day depending on physical activity, stress, breathing, and diet. Some medical conditions can cause low blood pressure:
- Heart conditions – Heart problems such as heart attack, heart failure and heart valve problems might lead to low blood pressure
- Pregnancy – During pregnancy the circulatory system expands, causing blood pressure to drop. This is normal and usually reverses itself after giving birth.
- Dehydration – Vomiting, diarrhea and fever can cause the body to lose too much water, leading to feeling week or dizzy.
The following types of medications can also cause low blood pressure:
- Water pills
- Alpha blockers and beta blockers
- Some tricyclic antidepressants
- Erectile dysfunction medication
- Parkinson's disease medication
Signs and symptoms of low blood pressure can sometimes indicate an underlying problem. If there is a sudden drop in pressure accompanied by dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, fainting, blurred vision, nausea, or inability to concentrate, one should contact a doctor. In the case of consistently low numbers with no signs or symptoms, getting regular checkups is still recommended.
Natural Ways to Lower your Blood Pressure
Although abnormally low blood pressure is cause for concern, it is more common for people to have elevated or high blood pressure and seek to lower it. Hypertension can lead to stroke, heart failure, heart attack, sexual dysfunction and kidney failure, so keeping the numbers down is important. There are some lifestyle changes one can make to lower and control blood pressure to delay or even avoid the need for medication.
- Lose weight – Weight gain often comes with increased blood pressure, so keeping the pounds off and watching one's waistline are recommended.
- Stay active – Regular exercise (30 minutes a day, five or six days a week) such as swimming, cycling, jogging, walking or dancing can lower blood pressure.
- Eat healthy – Diets high in sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat lead to increased blood pressure, so limit intake of those while choosing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Be aware of nutritional values of food and avoid processed food.
- Limit alcohol consumption – While drinking small amounts of alcohol (one or two drinks a day for women and men, respectively) can lower blood pressure, drinking higher amounts can have the opposite effect.
- Reduce stress – Knowing your stressors and reacting to them in healthy ways is key to lowering blood pressure.