Nurse taking blood pressure of a senior.

The Dangers of Low Blood Pressure

It is common to hear about blood pressure’s correlation to health. Of course, most of us are familiar with the issues that can result from having blood pressure that is too high (called hypertension). But, what are the risks and causes related to having blood pressure that is “too low” (hypotension)? Low blood pressure is especially prevalent among older individuals, and the impacts to health can be significant.

Identifying Low Blood Pressure Issues

The condition of having abnormally low blood pressure is often uncovered during a regular pressure check. It can be easily diagnosed with a simple blood pressure test using the familiar cuff and stethoscope, or by using one of the many electronic blood pressure monitors available today. 

The American Heart Association explains that two numbers are important when talking about blood pressure – systolic (the top number, which indicates how much pressure the blood is exerting while the heart is actively pumping into the blood vessels) and diastolic (bottom number, which indicates how much pressure the blood is exerting between pumps). 

For example, a normal reading may be represented as 110/80 mmHg. (The abbreviation mm Hg means millimeters of mercury. Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used in medicine today as the standard unit of measurement for blood pressure.)

Low Blood Pressure Symptoms

We have been conditioned to think of low blood pressure as generally desirable, but there are many risks that can be associated with abnormally low pressure. These dangers range from simply feeling dizzy or lethargic, to having more serious, potentially life-threatening health problems. While slight changes in blood pressure happen as a natural consequence of aging, cumulative effects of hypotension mean that essential parts of the body aren’t getting the blood flow they need to function properly.

The Cleveland Clinic offers this list of low blood pressure symptoms:

  • Feeling dizzy
  • Fainting or passing out (syncope)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Extreme tiredness or weakness
  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Confusion or agitation

Types of Hypotension

Low blood pressure issues fall into two distinct types, according to The Cleveland Clinic. The first, called absolute hypotension, occurs when a person’s resting blood pressure is below 90/60 mmHg. 

The other kind of low blood pressure is called orthostatic hypotension, which means a drop in blood pressure immediately after or within three minutes of standing up from a seated position.

Although low blood pressure can be found in people of all ages, the orthostatic type is especially prevalent among older people.

The Mayo Clinic identifies yet another type of hypotension that is prevalent among the elderly, called postprandial hypotension.  This occurs when a drop in blood pressure happens within a couple hours of eating, caused by inefficient blood flow to the digestive system.

Why Hypotension Happens

Although diagnosing low blood pressure is relatively easy, getting to the reasons causing it aren’t always so cut and dried. In addition to the various kinds of hypotension, low blood pressure can also happen from simply not drinking enough fluids, or by having poor nutrition. 

Certain medications also contribute to low blood pressure. For minor symptoms, the best course of action is to ask your medical professional to monitor them closely.  Individuals capable of self-monitoring may find it helpful to keep a record or journal of their daily blood pressure readings to be shared with their doctor during regularly-scheduled appointments. 

Conversely, low blood pressure may also be caused by serious underlying health issues such as heart problems, endocrine issues, severe infection, or an allergic reaction. If you or a loved one exhibits any of the symptoms of shock  that may result from low blood pressure, it is important to seek emergency help. 

Watchful Staff. Supportive Communities.

At The Maples, our experienced staff knows what to watch for in order to make sure you or your loved one receives important support to maintain health and happiness. Whether living independently or inside one of SageLife’s 24/7 care communities, our residents are always our #1 concern. The Maples of Towson provides nursing services including blood pressure monitoring, assistance with scheduling regular checkups, and transportation to or from doctor appointments. Reach out to learn more about The Maples of Towson today.