In the medical fraternity, low blood pressure is referred to as hypotension. Chronic low blood pressure without any symptoms is rarely serious. However, if you experience symptoms, like dizziness or fainting, you must take a medical opinion.
There are various causes of low blood pressure some serious and some not so serious. Some cause a sudden drop in blood pressure while some do it over time. Some are accompanied by a fast heart rate while some are accompanied by a slow heart rate. Some causes are related to low blood pressure in women during pregnancy. All these are explained below
You could read the previous post on what is low blood pressure and its range of readings so that you will know what we are talking about.
A healthy desired reading of blood pressure is 120/90 mm of Hg. Any blood pressure reading below 90/60 is considered low.
One risk factor for low blood pressure is advancing age. As you age, the blood flow to the heart and the brain reduces. This comes about due to atherosclerosis, which is the clogging of the arteries by cholesterol plaque buildup.
What can be the causes of low blood pressure and who is at greater risk?
Broadly, there are four major reasons, which cause low blood pressure:
- Reduction of Blood Volume.
- Certain Medicines.
- Cardiac causes.
- Other Causes.
1. Reduction of blood volume
Loss of blood from the body can be either due to severe bleeding, externally or internally.
External bleeding can be due to
- Trauma or
- An accident.
Internal bleeding can be due to
- Surgical complications arising after surgery can cause low blood pressure due to excessive loss of blood.
- A bleeding ulcer such as a peptic ulcer or tumor
- A ruptured aortic aneurysm causes severe loss of blood and death.
- An inflamed organ like the pancreas causes the fluid to separate from the blood and accumulate in the abdomen or around the inflamed tissue.
2. Certain medicines can cause low blood pressure
- Medicines given for heart conditions like calcium channel blockers, digoxin, and beta-blockers, nitrates reduce the heart rate and the blood pressure.
- Medicines for high blood pressure if taken in higher doses and in the elderly can give rise to low blood pressure — medicines like diuretics (Lasix), alpha-blockers, and ace inhibitors.
- Certain narcotics: Drugs used in psychiatric treatment, especially for depression can cause blood pressure to fall. Examples include (tricyclic antidepressants), including doxepin (Silenor), imipramine (Tofranil), protriptyline (Vivactil), and trimipramine (Surmontil)
- Drugs used in Parkinsonism like pramipexole (Mirapex) or those containing levodopa
3. Cardiac Causes of low blood pressure
Weakness of the myocardium (heart muscle)
Weakness of the myocardium happens due to
- a massive heart attack or
- a viral infection of the myocardium (myocarditis) or
- stenosis of the aortic valve.
All these factors lead to insufficient pumping of blood into the blood vessels of the body causing reduced blood pressure in the arteries. In aortic stenosis, the heart tries to keep the blood flow normal by pumping hard. As a result, it gets overworked and this leads to the weakening of the heart muscle.
Pulmonary embolism is a condition wherein a clot in a vein is dislodged and travels through the blood into the heart and subsequently is lodged into the lungs. It causes a block and the blood flow from the lungs to the heart is blocked. This is a medical emergency and more often than not, results in the death of the patient.
Causes of low heart rate and low blood pressure
Pulse is an indicator of your heart rate. If your heart beats at 72 beats per minute, your pulse will be 72 per minute.
A low heart rate or bradycardia, as referred to in medicine, can cause your blood pressure to fall. This is caused by medications like Digoxin and Beta-blockers. A low heart rate with low blood pressure can also be caused by conditions called Sick Sinus Syndrome or Heart Block, wherein the sensory-motor impulses, which control the heart rate, are disturbed.
Causes of increased heart rate and low blood pressure
Increased heart rate (tachycardia) due to atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia is a condition where the heart beats at a very rapid rate. Due to the rapid rate, ventricles do not fill completely and the amount of blood pumped out, is less. This causes low blood pressure.
How does pericarditis cause low blood pressure?
Pericarditis is a condition where the sac (pericardium) covering the heart is inflamed and thickened and is filled with fluid. This presses on the heart and the heart does not have the flexibility to relax and contract as it normally does because the pericardium is covering it tightly. It contracts weakly and this results in less blood flowing out of the heart causing low blood pressure.
4. Other causes of low blood pressure
To briefly innumerate them:
- Postural hypotension is seen in about 20 % of people above the age of 65 years. It is a condition where the individual develops low blood pressure on getting up after sitting or lying down for a long period. This type of low blood pressure happens usually in the morning. Due to gravity, the blood does not return from the legs to the heart in sufficient quantities. Normally, in such conditions, the body responds by increasing the heart rate and the peripheral arteries contract, but in patients with postural hypotension, this backup fails to cause the blood pressure to fall temporarily. The common causes of postural hypotension are drugs and conditions that cause hypovolaemia (blood or fluid loss), diuretic, or vasodilator therapy.
- Malnutrition is a common cause of low blood pressure. This is because the deficiency of certain vitamins in the body, especially Vitamin B-12 and folate inhibits the production of red blood cells, which become deficient. This leads to a fall in blood pressure.
- A syncopal attack resulting from urination causes sudden low blood pressure. Syncope is a medical name for fainting. It is usually temporary and is caused by the momentary reduction in blood flow and, therefore, a lack of oxygen to the brain.
- Adrenal gland damage due to some pathology results in a lack of secretion of the hormone, cortisol, from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is responsible for controlling the heart and blood pressure. Blood pressure, therefore, falls.
- Septicemia is a condition wherein the blood gets infected with the bacteria, which enter the blood from the lungs, bladder, or intestines. Septicemia results in shock and low blood pressure. This drop in blood pressure can be life-threatening.
- Anaphylactic shock caused by allergy to injections of medicines like penicillin and vitamin B1 causes blood pressure to fall.
- A vasovagal reaction is a reaction triggered by fear and pain. The vagus nerve belongs to the involuntary autonomic system, which controls the heart rate and blood pressure. The vagus nerve slows down the heart rate and this causes low blood pressure.
- Dehydration and loss of electrolytes due to diarrhea and/or vomiting can cause your blood pressure to fall.
- Hormonal problems such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can cause low blood pressure.
- Heat exertion or a heat stroke can cause blood pressure to fall.
- Prolonged bed rest or hospitalization due to a prolonged illness causes hypotension.
Causes of sudden low blood pressure
Of the above causes, the following can cause a sudden fall in blood pressure:
- Loss of blood
- Sepsis – severe infection of the blood
- Medication and/or a reaction to a drug
- Too much alcohol causes an allergic reaction and a blood pressure drop
- Anaphylaxis. This is a severe allergic reaction to an injected medication.
- Heart muscle disease that leads to heart failure
- Severe dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea