Nowadays, when you hear about blood pressure you usually hear about high blood pressure. And rightly so. When your blood pressure is continually high, it puts your heart, arteries and other organs in danger.
But blood pressure that’s too low can also be risky.
Low blood pressure can make you more prone to becoming dizzy and falling. It may also be associated with heart problems. And this type of blood pressure malfunction becomes especially challenging as you get older.
That’s why you should be aware of this potential problem. Luckily, there are many natural ways to lower its impact on your daily life.
Going Too Far Down
Ironically, it’s high blood pressure that may put you at the most risk for low pressure, because doctors may dish out pharmaceuticals that are too powerful in lowering blood pressure.
A study in California by Kaiser Permanente shows that when doctors prescribe medications that push people’s systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure measurement) below 110mmHg, those folks taking the drugs suffer a doubled risk of falling and fainting.1
You probably know that a broken hip can be a tragic event for an elderly person, so this is a case where the medication causes more problems than it solves.
The researchers warn that the risk of falls from these medications also goes way up in people who already have what’s called “orthostatic hypotension” – a condition which causes blood pressure to plummet when you get out of bed or even stand up from a chair.
Orthostatic hypotension is much more widespread than most people know. Studies show that one in twenty middle-aged people now have this problem.2 Get to your sixties, and it’s one person in five. In your late seventies, a study at Texas Southern University found, it may afflict as many as 50 percent.3
If you understand the physical forces and muscular actions that take place inside of you when you stand up, say researchers, you can easily see why orthostatic hypotension is so widespread. The muscle contractions that bring you to a standing position squeeze an increased amount of blood through the veins back to the heart. That increase is sensed by the heart and arteries in a way that slows the heart’s pumping action, lowering both blood pressure and blood flow.
Normally, the drop in blood pressure only lasts for a moment and the heart re-establishes normal pressure almost immediately. But aging can slow the heart and body’s response. And blood can pool in your legs.4 The result is a light-headed feeling or vertigo that can topple you to the ground when you get out of bed or rise from a chair.
Dealing With Orthostatic Hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension can also be a common side effect of certain medications. These include:
- Diuretics such as thiazides and furosemide which are used to treat high blood pressure and edema.
- Venodilators like nitrates that are used to treat heart failure.
- Anti-depressants such as amitriptyline and nortriptyline
- Direct vasodilators like amlodipine, hydralazine, nifedipine and alpha antagonists that are used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.
So if you are taking one of these drugs and suffer from dizziness and low blood pressure when you stand, ask your doctor to switch or adjust your prescription.
One more thing: if you are on medication for high blood pressure, consider that you may not have this condition at all and may not need the drug. It’s common in a doctor’s office for people to feel stressed out, which can send your blood pressure soaring. Repeated readings may be needed to be sure what your “normal” level is.
What’s more, the medical profession keeps tightening the definition of “high blood pressure,” with the result that people whose blood pressure is only slightly elevated get put on a drug. Considering the drugs can cause you to fall over and break a bone, they may not be worth the risk.
Other Tips to Ward off Plunges in Blood Pressure
As I said before, there are also many natural ways to deal with the difficulties of orthostatic hypotension.
For instance, experts advise drinking two to three liters of water every day. That’s about a half to three-quarters of a gallon. That’s supposed to help keep up your blood volume.5 Increasing your salt intake to 6 to 9 grams is also helpful.6 Salty soups and broths are good.
Along with keeping your water intake up throughout the day, researchers have also found that if you need immediate help because you’re starting to feel woozy, rapidly drinking about half a quart of water can raise your blood pressure in five to ten minutes and keep it up for about an hour. Researchers note that drinking water this way produces “the time line of a very short acting medication.”7
Other helpful measures include:8
- Wear abdominal binders (stomach wraps) and compression stockings. These have been shown to help maintain blood pressure.
- Sleep with the head of your bed elevated.
- Eat smaller meals with less sugar since sugar and refined carbohydrates can increase the risk of orthostatic hypotension. Avoid alcohol.
- Get some gentle exercise every day. Experts recommend activities like swimming and recumbent biking which don’t involve being on your feet.
- Try to stay cool. Avoid very hot baths and showers which can bring on dizziness. Don’t be outside too long in very hot weather.
- When you rise, get up slowly not suddenly.
- Don’t stand for long periods of time.
Certainly, if you are suffering significant problems with orthostatic hypotension, consult your doctor to see if one of your medications or some other circumstance is causing your problem. But most often you have to deal with this problem without being offered a “cure.” In that case, the measures I’ve described should help you cope with the condition.