Low Blood Pressure In Women

guide to low blood pressure readings




What Is Low Blood Pressure?
Are There Any Risks?
What Are The Symptoms
What Are The Causes?
How Is It Diagnosed?
How Is It Treated?

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What Is Blood Pressure?
Cardiovascular System
What Is Low Blood Pressure?

If a woman consistently has blood pressure readings which are lower than 'normal', she is said to have low blood pressure. A normal reading is considered less than 120/80 mm Hg. If this figure fall to less than 90/60 mm Hg and stays there consistently, the person is said to have low blood pressure. The medical term is hypotension, which is the opposite to hypertension (high blood pressure). In practice, unless it causes serious symptoms, low blood pressure is not considered a problem. In fact for people who are in good shape and exercise regularly, low blood pressure is a sign of good health. The only obvious symptom they might have is when they stand up have a wave of dizziness.

Are There Any Risks?

In general, low blood pressure which is not caused by an underlying condition is a good thing. This is because it lowers a person's stroke risk factors, as well as their risk factors for heart disease and kidney problems. It usually occurs in people with an ideal body weight who do not smoke, as well as athletes and people who exercise regularly. Occasionally it can be a side effect of blood pressure drugs or antidepressants and it can also occur in people with diabetes. The only time you need to worry is when your blood pressure drops to the point where it causes serious side effects like fainting and heart disorders. If hypotension becomes severe enough it ends up reducing blood flow to vital organs in the body so they are deprived of oxygen and nutrients. This can cause the body to go into a life-threatening state of shock. Or it can cause chest pain in women (similar to angina) or even a heart attack. Severe hypotension is always caused by an underlying illness - for example thyroid disease or as the result of a previous heart attack.

What Are The Symptoms

Postural (Orthostatic) Hypotension
Most people do not experience any symptoms, or if they do, the most common sign is dizziness when they stand up too quickly. This is medically called postural hypotension (or orthostatic hypotension) - a lowering of blood pressure which occurs when you change position. Postural hypotension is more common in the elderly with nearly 20 percent of those over the age of 65 experiencing it. It can be due to a variety of reasons including prolonged bed rest, varicose veins, diabetes, pregnancy and too much heat. Other culprits include blood pressure meds like beta blockers, ACE inhibitor drugs and calcium channel blockers, as well as antidepressant medications.
Postprandial Hypotension
Sometimes people suffer a drop in blood pressure after eating a meal which causes a brief feeling of dizziness and faintness. This is called postprandial hypotension and is more common in older people, particularly those with a hypertension diagnosis, diabetes or Parkinson's disease. One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to lie down directly after eating, reduce the amount of carbs in your meal and by eating less food but more frequently.

Other Signs

Blurred vision
Cold, clammy, pale skin
Fainting (syncope), see why do I feel faint?
Feeling generally weak
Heart palpitations
Rapid, shallow breathing
Increased thirst
Compare to the symptoms of hypertension.

When To See A Doctor

In most cases if you have consistently low readings but feel fine, your doctor is not likely to recommend any treatment. Even occasional dizzy spells are not seen a problem but could just be the result of standing up too quickly, spending too much time in a hot bath or sun bathing. The only time to worry is if symptoms become more frequent and severe.

What Are The Causes?

In the vast majority of cases there are no 'causes'. As we mentioned earlier, it may well just be a sign of good fitness and health levels. However, if it is not normal for you to have low blood pressure, and you suddenly start to develop it consistently, other medical conditions may be a factor. These include:

Pregnancy: It is usual for blood pressure to fall in pregnant women by as much as 10/10 mm Hg. This is quite normal and usually returns to previous levels after delivery. Doctors tend to be more concerned about high blood pressure during pregnancy. See also, will pregnancy raise my blood pressure?
Heart Problems: If you have been diagnosed with a heart problem, such as congestive heart failure or heart arrhythmia, your condition can lower your blood pressure. Hypotension can also be the side effect of heart attacks, or silent heart attacks.
Thyroid Disease: Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can cause hypotension.
Diabetes: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and diabetes can trigger hypotension.
Dehydration: Lack of water in the body can cause mild symptoms of hypotension like dizziness and fatigue. If the dehydration is severe enough it can cause hypovolemic shock which can lead to death within a few minutes or hours.
Allergic Reaction: A severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis shock) to a substance (from food to drugs or insect bite) can cause a drop in blood pressure, as well as breathing problems.
Blood: Blood loss due to an accident or a severe blood infection (septicemia) can cause life-threatening hypotension.
Diet: A lack of the vitamin B-12 and folic acid can cause anemia and low blood pressure.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will take a blood pressure reading. If this reading is consistently low on two or more occasions he will diagnose low blood pressure. In most cases no further tests will be necessary unless the doctor suspects an underlying disorder. If he does, he might order:
Blood Tests: A blood test to check for diabetes or hypoglycemia.
Heart Tests: An electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiogram to test the condition of your heart. He may also order an exercise stress test to see how well your heart performs under stress. If your levels tend to be lower at different times of the day, you may be told to wear a Holter monitor for 24 hours to record your heartbeat.
Table Tilt: If changing your posture causes severe problems, a table tilt test may be carried out to evaluate how you react to do different positions. You are strapped onto a table which tilts in different directions and your reactions are monitored.

How Is It Treated?

In most instances symptoms are non-existent or mild and no treatment is required. If symptoms are severe, doctors will work to identify the underlying cause and treat it directly. If the problem is caused by medications, treatment involves changing the prescription or stopping it completely. If there is no obvious cause and you are suffering from side effects, other options are:
Eat more salt: Salt raises blood pressure which is why cutting it out of your diet if you have high blood pressure is part of any hypertension prevention program. However check with your doctor first, particularly if you are aged over 60.
Drink more water: Fluids can help increase blood volume.
Compression socks: These help to simulate circulation, they are the same worn by patients with varicose veins. If you would like to check your readings regularly, considering buying a home blood pressure monitor.
Drugs: Sometimes patients with postural hypotension are prescribed medications to raise blood pressure - such as fludrocortisone and midodrine (Orvaten and Proamatine).

  Related Articles on Hypotension

For more on cardiovascular problems, see the following:

Heart Disease in Women

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