STARS Patient Information
Living with low blood pressure
What is low blood pressure?
Blood pressure (BP) recordings consist of two numbers. The top one is the systolic blood pressure and relates to the contraction of the left side of the heart and the peak pressure achieved when it pumps blood round the body. The bottom number is the diastolic recording and is the lowest pressure achieved in the circulation; this relates to the relaxation of the heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), e.g. 120/70 mmHg.
Low blood pressure is also known as hypotension. This is usually defined in an adult as a systolic recording of less than 90 mmHg, although it has been suggested that for elderly people, below 110 mmHg is a more appropriate definition. Blood pressure and heart rate are controlled by the autonomic nervous system (the nervous system that controls bodily functions that we do not have to think about).
What are the symptoms of low blood pressure?
It is important to recognise that low blood pressure can cause no symptoms at all, and is a common normal finding in young people and athletes. However, in some people, low blood pressure causes symptoms which can significantly interfere with their quality of life. These can include syncope (fainting), pre-syncope (near fainting, usually associated with feeling light-headed), sweating, tiredness, slow thinking (brain fog), nausea, visual blurring, hearing disturbances, headache, palpitations, neck pain, breathlessness and chest pain.
A drop in systolic BP of 60 mmHg or more is usually associated with loss of consciousness.
What causes low blood pressure?
There are many factors which can contribute to low blood pressure. In some people, they only have one factor such as fear. In others, there is a combination which add together to cause problems, such as prolonged standing, heat, alcohol and hyperventilation (over-breathing) may also contribute.
It occurs more often in older people who are taking a lot of medication. However, it can cause symptoms in younger people. There may be underlying medical conditions such as joint hypermobility syndrome, diabetes, parkinson’s disease, addison’s disease or autonomic failure. Dehydration, hunger, low body weight and deconditioning (being out of shape/unfit) can reduce blood pressure.