Many people are affected by a condition known as orthostatic hypotension. Also known as postural hypotension, this is a condition that causes a sudden unsafe drop in your blood pressure when you assume a standing position. Normally, your blood pressure should adjust when you change from a sitting to a standing position, leaving you with no ill effects. For persons with orthostatic hypotension, however, the body does not readily make this adjustment. As a result, the blood pressure drops, leaving you feeling weak, lightheaded, dizzy or faint.
To best understand hypotension it is helpful to have a general knowledge of your blood pressure. There are two main types of blood vessels throughout the body, arteries and veins. Arteries carry the blood away from the heart to the rest of the body, and veins carry your blood from various parts of your body back to your heart . As your heart beats, it exerts a certain force or pressure against the walls of the arteries, known as the systolic pressure. When the heart relaxes between beats, a lesser degree of pressure is exerted, known as the diastolic pressure. When your doctor takes your blood pressure reading, these two pressure levels are measured and written as a fraction. The normal adult blood pressure reading is about 120/80. According to American Family Physician, a person is considered to have orthostatic hypotension when the systolic pressure (the top number) drops at least 20 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) drops 10 mm Hg or more within three minutes of standing.
Causes of orthostatic hypotension
There are many causes orthostatic hypotension. Some of the commonly seen causes are mentioned here.
Dehydration is one of the most common causes. Anything that causes the body to lose fluids, such as fever, excessive diarrhea or vomiting can cause the symptoms. Bleeding can also cause orthostatic hypotension, especially if the patient has lost enough blood to be anemic.
Another cause of orthostatic hypotension can be the side effects of certain medications. Sometimes the dosage of your medicines may need to be changed if you are feeling lightheaded with position changes.
Persons with heart problems such has heart failure or heart arrhythmias may be affected by orthostatic hypotension.
The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute also cite severe infections and certain endocrine diseases such as Addison’s disease and diabetes as possible causes.
Treatment of orthostatic hypotension
Orthostatic hypotension is treated differently based on what is causing it. Generally, if the cause is corrected than the blood pressure problem will be corrected on its own. For example, if the symptoms are caused from side effects of medications, your symptoms will subside once your doctor adjusts the dosage of your medication or discontinues the medication. If dehydration is the cause of your symptoms an increase in fluid intake will benefit. If orthostatic hypotension is caused by an underlying heart condition, your doctor will aim to treat the heart problem.
What you can do about orthostatic hypotension
Here are things you can do in your home to help yourself with the symptoms of this condition.
1) The quickest thing you can do when you feel yourself becoming weak and lightheaded after a sudden position change is to immediately sit back down. Lie down of possible. Rest a few moments and then try to stand again, this time more slowly to avoid the sudden postural change.
2) Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. If you are dehydrated, drinking more fluids may help the problem.
3) Your doctor might also recommend that you wear support stockings such as compression hose, Jobst stockings or other elastic stockings help the blood in your lower extremities flow back to the heart.
4) Monitor your blood pressure both lying and standing and keep a record of these readings for your doctor to review. You can use an automatic blood pressure cuff for this. Click here for helpful information on how to use an automatic BP cuff machine.
5) If you are feeling light-headed or dizzy, check you blood pressure and hold your blood medicine until you can talk to your doctor.
6) Avoid being in excessive heat, whether indoors or outdoors. The heat will cause you to perspire and lose more fluid, resulting in dehydration which may cause you to feel faint.
7) Increase the salt in your diet. This will need to be done under your doctor’s supervision, however, because excessive salt intake may lead to hypertension.
8) If you drop something on the floor don’t bend over to pick it up. Bend your knees instead and squat down to retrieve it.
9) Be sure to stay in touch with your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms. If he has changed your medication, be sure to give him feedback if the symptoms do not improve.
Medicine Net: “Orthostatic hypotension”
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: “What causes hypotension?”
American Family Physicians: “Orthostatic hypotension”
Dizziness and Balance: “Orthostatic hypotension”