Any surgery comes with the potential for certain risks, even if it’s a routine procedure. One such risk is a change in your blood pressure.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg. The top number is called systolic pressure, and measures the pressure when your heart is beating and pumping blood. The bottom number is called diastolic pressure, and measures the pressure when your heart is resting between beats. Any reading below 90/60 mmHg can be considered low blood pressure, but it can be different depending on the person and on the circumstances.
Your blood pressure can drop during or following surgery for a variety of reasons.
Anesthetic drugs, which are used to put you to sleep during surgery, can affect your blood pressure. Changes can happen while you’re being put to sleep and then when you’re coming off of the drugs. In some people, anesthesia causes a significant drop in blood pressure. If this is the case, doctors will monitor you carefully and give you medications through an IV to help bring your blood pressure back to normal.
Hypovolemic shock is when your body goes into shock because of severe blood loss. Losing a large amount of blood, which can happen during surgery, causes a drop in blood pressure. Less blood means the body can’t move it as easily to the organs it needs to reach. Since shock is an emergency, you will be treated in the hospital. The treatment goal is to try and restore the blood and fluids in your body before damage is done to your vital organs (especially the kidneys and heart).
Sepsis is a life-threatening complication of getting a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. It causes the walls of small blood vessels to leak fluids into other tissues. A severe complication of sepsis is called septic shock, and one of its symptoms is critically low blood pressure. You’re vulnerable to these infections if you’re in the hospital recovering from surgery. Sepsis is treated in a hospital by using antibiotics, giving extra fluids, and monitoring. In order to treat low blood pressure, you may be given medications called vasopressors. These help tighten your blood vessels to increase blood pressure.
If you still have low blood pressure when you return home, here are some things you can do to reduce symptoms:
- Stand up slowly: Take time to move around and stretch before standing. This will help get blood flowing in your body
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol: Both can cause dehydration.
- Eat small, frequent meals: Some people experience low blood pressure after eating, and smaller meals help reduce your risk.
- Drink more fluids: Staying hydrated helps prevent low blood pressure.
- Eat more salt: Your doctor may recommend upping your salt by adding more to foods or taking salt tablets. Don’t start adding salt without asking your doctor first. This form of treatment should only be done with the advice of your physician.
Should You Worry?
Really low blood pressure numbers put you at risk of damage to vital organs, like your heart and brain, due to lack of oxygen. Low numbers at this level are more likely to happen while you’re being treated in the hospital for emergencies like blood loss or a heart attack. However, most of the time, low blood pressure doesn’t require treatment.
You should err on the side of caution. If you are concerned about ongoing low blood pressure, you should see your doctor, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms, including dizziness, lightheadedness, blurry vision, nausea, dehydration, cold clammy skin, or fainting. Your doctor will be able to tell if there is another health issue going on or if you need to add or change medications.