Generally low blood pressure or hypotension is considered a sign of good health. Blood pressure measures the force of blood circulating in a patient’s veins and arteries. High blood pressure generally puts patients at higher risk for heart attacks or strokes, so lower blood pressure is normally a goal for most patients. In some people, however, low blood pressure can also increase the risk of certain dangerous conditions.
Acute low blood pressure, usually due to blood loss, dehydration, or heat exhaustion, can lead to symptoms of shock, unconsciousness, or even death. The risks from most cases of acute low blood pressure are minimal. If a patient receives immediate treatment, such as a blood transfusion or intravenous fluids, a full recovery is usually possible. In some severe cases, the lack of oxygen to vital organs causes irreversible organ damage, and the patient may be unable to recover.
The most common risk of chronic low blood pressure is fainting. Some people become dizzy and black out when standing up too fast. This condition is known as orthostatic hypotension and although people usually quickly recover, it can be dangerous in some situations. People living alone are at risk if they hit their head and there is no one to help them. The elderly who have more brittle bones can suffer bone fractures from these simple falls. A bone fracture in an elderly patient can significantly impact the quality of life, so avoiding orthostatic hypotension in these patients is critical. Standing up slowly or adjusting medication doses can usually mitigate these risks, particularly when the fainting or dizziness is a side effect of medication.
Blood pressure affects the health of the whole system and is critical in the health of vital organs. Low blood pressure can mean that organs are not getting enough oxygen rich blood and can cause cardiac and neurological symptoms. Chronically low blood pressure can cause irreversible damage to the heart and brain. Low blood pressure may, over time, cause damage that increases the risks of heart attack or stroke. Chronic low blood pressure, in addition to starving organs of oxygen, can also slow down the removal of waste products from the blood that can lead to permanent damage to the kidneys and liver.
Other risks associated with low blood pressure are harder to define. There are ongoing studies to determine whether low blood pressure leads to a higher risk of dementia in the elderly. Some studies have shown that people with low blood pressure are more likely to have age-related dementia symptoms. It is currently being debated, however, whether low blood pressure causes dementia or dementia causes low blood pressure.
There are also several studies being conducted on the causal effect between low blood pressure and depression. Again, studies have shown a relationship between the two conditions, but the definitive answer of which condition leads to the other is still being debated. These risks are particularly hard to define due to the subjective nature of dementia and depression symptoms. The variety of causes in an elderly population frequently suffering from several chronic conditions and taking several medications can lead to uncertainty in research study results.
Although, low blood pressure is frequently a health goal, chronic low blood pressure can carry some significant risks. Anything from breaking a bone due to fainting to more system wide effects can cause significant health issues. Low blood pressure, whether acute or chronic, can have a serious effect on a patient’s health and well –being.