You commonly hear about the dangers of high blood pressure, or a reading above 130/80, and ways to prevent hypertension. So you would think the lower your blood pressure reading is, the better, right? While there isn’t a specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered “low,” when low blood pressure causes symptoms or when blood pressure drops suddenly, it can be dangerous. We spoke with Tulika Jain, M.D., a cardiologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas and at Texas Health Heart & Vascular Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, to learn more about low blood pressure, its symptoms and what to do in the case of an emergency.
Before we dive into low blood pressure, it’s important to know how blood pressure works in your body. In order for your body to function properly, the heart pumps oxygenated blood throughout the circulatory system. When your heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through a network of vessels. When blood pressure is too high, it can damage these vessels and your heart, causing them to work harder and less efficiently. But when blood pressure is too low, your body has a hard time getting enough blood and oxygen to your brain, kidneys and other vital organs.
“Normal blood pressure average is 120/80, but the range for the top systolic number ranges from 90 to 140 and bottom diastolic number is 60 to 90,” Jain explains. “Generally, low blood pressure is below 90/60.
“When blood pressure drops relative to someone’s usual blood pressure, this can be an indication of a pathological problem.”
Jain adds that some people naturally have low blood pressure, and many times they do not present with any symptoms. What may be considered a “low” reading for one person may be a normal reading for others depending on their history. In fact, most doctors will only consider chronically low blood pressure as dangerous if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms, such as:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dehydration and unusual thirst
- Lack of concentration
- Blurred vision
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
In addition to people who have chronically low blood pressure, Jain notes that low readings can be caused by drug-induced hypotension, blood pressure regulation problems, a drop in blood pressure from a vasovagal reaction (i.e., standing up too quickly from a seated or lying position), falsely low blood pressure due to peripheral vascular disease (PVD), and some cardiovascular conditions.
The treatment of low blood pressure depends on the cause. Your physician can work with you to evaluate your medical history and lifestyle factors, and can perform any necessary tests to help diagnose the cause.
“There are numerous medical causes of low blood pressure, many of which can be life-threatening,” Jain explains. “Sudden causes of low blood pressure can include dehydration, anemia, infection or sepsis, cardiogenic or endocrine disorders, disorders of the liver, pulmonary problems or anaphylaxis.”
While most of these conditions can be a warranted cause for concern, Jain says once the cause had been identified, treatment usually provides quick relief.
“If it’s a problem with dehydration or blood loss then fluids, salt or blood may be needed,” she explains. “If it’s due to medication, then reversal agents may be needed, and medications need adjustment. Other treatments may depend on the underlying condition.”
If blood pressure falls quickly or unexpectedly or someone experiences fainting or mental status changes, Jain says it’s important to seek medical attention immediately, even if you know you have a history of low blood pressure.
Low blood pressure can occur in anyone, and even moderate forms can cause unwanted side effects. A regular checkup with a trusted physician can help keep a close eye on blood pressure changes and can expedite treatment plans.
With primary care practices located across North Texas, we’re bound to have one near you, with some even offering Saturday appointments. Find a cardiologist near you.