What causes low blood pressure? 39 possible conditions

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What Is Hypotension?

Hypotension is low blood pressure. Your blood pushes against your arteries with each heartbeat. The pushing of the blood against the artery walls is called blood pressure. Low blood pressure is good in most cases. Sometimes, however, low blood pressure can make you feel tired or dizzy. Hypotension can be a sign of an underlying condition that should be treated.

Blood pressure is measured both when your heart beats and in the periods of rest in between. The measurement of your blood pumping through your arteries is called systolic pressure. The measurement for the periods of rest is called diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is written with the systolic number above the diastolic number. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines hypotension as being 90/60 or lower (NIH, 2012).

What Causes Hypotension?

Everyone’s blood pressure drops at one time or another, often without adverse reaction. Certain conditions can cause prolonged period of hypotension that can become dangerous if left untreated. These include:

  • pregnancy (due to an increase in demand for blood from both mother and the growing fetus)
  • large amounts of blood loss through injury
  • impaired circulation caused by heart attacks or faulty heart valves
  • weakness and a state of shock that sometimes accompany dehydration
  • anaphylactic shock, a severe form of allergic reaction
  • infections of the bloodstream
  • endocrine disorders such as diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, and thyroid disease

Medications might also cause a drop in blood pressure. Beta-blockers and nitroglycerin, used to treat heart disease, are common culprits. Diuretics, tricyclic antidepressants, and erectile dysfunction drugs can also cause hypotension.

Some people have low blood pressure for unknown reasons. This form of hypotension, called chronic asymptomatic hypotension, usually does not cause harm.

Types of Hypotension

Hypotension is divided into several different classifications according to when your blood pressure drops.

Orthostatic

Orthostatic hypotension is the drop in blood pressure that occurs when you transition from sitting or lying down to standing. It is common in people of all ages. This is what some people refer to as “seeing stars” when they get up. They are most likely experiencing a brief period of dizziness caused by orthostatic hypotension.

Postprandial

Postprandial hypotension is the drop of blood pressure occurring directly after eating. It is a type of orthostatic hypotension. Senior citizens, especially those with Parkinson’s disease, are more likely to develop postprandial hypotension.

Neurally Mediated

Neurally mediated hypotension happens after you stand for a long time. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, children get this form of hypotension more often than adults (NHLBI, 2010). Emotionally upsetting events can also cause this drop in blood pressure.

Severe

Severe hypotension is related to shock. Shock occurs when your organs do not get the blood and oxygen they need to function properly. Severe hypotension can be life threatening if not treated promptly.

Hypotension Symptoms

People with hypotension may experience unpleasant symptoms when their blood pressure drops below 90/60. Symptoms of hypotension can include:

  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • clammy skin
  • depression
  • loss of consciousness
  • blurry vision

Symptoms can range in severity. Some people may be slightly uncomfortable, while others may feel quite ill. Notify your doctor if you are concerned about your symptoms and blood pressure levels.

Treatment for Hypotension

Your doctor will treat the underlying condition that causes your hypotension. This may include medications for heart disease, diabetes, or infection.

Drink plenty of water to avoid hypotension due to dehydration.

Treat orthostatic hypotension with slow, gradual movements. Instead of standing up quickly, work your way into a sitting or standing position using small movements. You can also avoid orthostatic hypotension by not crossing your legs when you sit.

Hydration can also help treat and prevent the symptoms of neurally mediated hypotension. If you suffer from low blood pressure when standing for long periods, be sure to take a break to sit down. Reduce your stress levels to avoid emotional trauma.

Shock-induced hypotension is the most serious form of the condition. Severe hypotension must be treated immediately. Emergency personnel will give you fluids and possibly blood products to increase your blood pressure and stabilize your vital signs.

Outlook

Most people can manage and prevent hypotension effectively through medication and education. Learn your triggers and try to avoid them as best you can. Take medications as directed to increase your blood pressure and to avoid potentially harmful complications.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Dehydration

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you drink. The most common cause of water loss from the body is excessive sweating. Headaches, dizziness, and decreased urination are symptoms.

Read more »

2

Caffeine Overdose

You're at risk for caffeine overdose when you ingest more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine (about three 8-oz cups of coffee) in a day. Dizziness, diarrhea, headache, and severe thirst may occur.

Read more »

3

Orthostatic Hypotension

Orthostatic hypotension (also called postural hypotension) is a sudden fall in blood pressure that occurs upon standing quickly.

Read more »

4

Bleeding

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Bleeding can refer to blood loss inside the body (internal bleeding) or blood loss outside of the body (external bleeding). It can cause bruising, pain, and symptoms of shock. Too much bleeding can lead to death.

Read more »

5

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Congestive heart failure is a chronic condition that affects the four chambers of the heart. Early symptoms include fatigue and weight gain. Irregular heart beat and wheezing indicate a worsening.

Read more »

6

Anaphylaxis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When people with severe allergies are exposed to their allergen, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can result: a series of symptoms such as rash, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing and shock.

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7

Cardiogenic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Cardiogenic shock is a rare condition in which the heart is so damaged that it is unable to supply sufficient blood to bodily organs. Sweating and cold extremities are potential signs of this condition.

Read more »

8

Adrenergic Bronchodilators Overdose

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An overdose happens when you take too much of a drug. Whether intentional or accidental, drug overdoses can be life threatening. Adrenergic bronchodilators overdose is when a person has taken too much of a certain typ...

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9

Hypovolemic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Hypovolemic shock is a life-threatening condition that results when you lose more than 20 percent (one-fifth) of your body's blood or fluid supply. This severe fluid loss makes it impossible for the heart to pum...

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10

Septic Shock

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Septic shock is a complication of an infection in which toxins can initiate a full-body inflammatory response and organ failure. Confusion, breathing problems, chills, and cold sweats.

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11

Opioids and related disorders

Opioids are a class of drugs that include both natural and synthetic substances. The natural opioids (referred to as opiates) include opium and morphine.

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12

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is both odorless and colorless. It emanates from anything that produces combustion fumes. Common devices that produce these fumes include: heaters fireplaces car mufflers space heater...

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13

Anorexia Nervosa

Almost everyone worries about gaining too much weight. But in some people the worry becomes obsessive, causing a condition called anorexia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that can result in severe weigh...

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14

Addison’s Disease

Addison's disease occurs when the adrenal cortex is damaged and the adrenal glands do not produce enough steroid hormones called cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol regulates the body's reaction to stressful situations...

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15

Abnormal Heart Rhythms

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Have you ever felt your heart skip a beat? If you're not a character in a romance novel, that may mean you have an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia). Within the heart is a complex system of valves, nodes, an...

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16

Toxic Shock Syndrome

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare but serious medical condition caused by a bacterial infection. This condition is the result of toxins produced by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. Although toxic shock syndrome ha...

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17

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication that stems from diabetes. If you don't have enough insulin to help your body process sugars (glucose), your body will start burning fat to fuel itself. As a result...

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18

Pulmonary Embolism

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that affects the lungs. Typically, a blood clot travels from another area in the body before becoming lodged in one of the arteries that supply blood to the lungs. A pulmonar...

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19

Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy (AN) is a condition that results from damage to nerves that assist in organ and organ system functioning. This nerve damage disturbs signal processing between the autonomic nervous system and th...

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20

Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

In the movies, heart attacks are always very obvious. In reality, heart attacks aren't always so sudden or dramatic. Read our brief overview for information about heart attacks.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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