Low blood pressure – symptoms and dangers

Monday, November 17, 2014

By: Matthew A. Schmidt, MD

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Low blood pressure – symptoms and dangers


We’ve all heard about the dangers of high blood pressure. But is there a problem with low blood pressure?


Just as high blood pressure puts your body at risk, so too does low blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels. When the heart pumps blood into the arteries, the force exerted is called systolic pressure. As the heart rests between beats the force is reduced, which produces diastolic pressure.


Normal pressure is regarded as 120/80, whereas 120 is the systolic pressure and 80 is the diastolic pressure. Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is considered to be 90/60 or less. In many cases, hypotension isn’t serious and can be managed, but it is important to check with your doctor if symptoms persist.


Low blood pressure – symptoms and dangers


These symptoms can be telltale signs of other, more serious issues such as heart problems, stroke, kidney problems, dehydration, lack of dietary nutrients and blood loss. Pregnancy is also a known reason for low blood pressure, but normal pressure usually returns after childbirth. Some medications which include certain diuretics, alpha and beta blockers, antidepressants and drugs for Parkinson’s disease are also known to lead to lower blood pressures.


There are several types of hypotension; more common ones include:

  • Postural hypotension: Upon standing from sitting or laying down, a sudden drop in blood pressure occurs. A faulty system reflex does not allow the heart rate to increase or the blood vessels to contract which disallows blood from properly returning to the brain, causing dizzy spells and lightheadedness.
  • Postprandial hypotension: After eating, blood normally flows to the digestive tract but with this form of hypotension, that system fails and leads to spells of dizziness and lightheadedness. Postprandial hypotension usually affects those with nervous system conditions or those with high blood pressure.
  • Neurally mediated hypotension: This form of hypotension is caused by flawed brain signals between the brain and heart. Long periods of standing causes blood to pool in the legs, causing hypotension. Normally, the body’s blood pressure mechanism activates, but here the brain receives signals from the heart that the pressure is too high and the brain responds by reducing heart rate, exacerbating the symptoms of low blood pressure.


It is important to note that what some may be considered low blood pressure for some people may be the normal pressure for others. For example, athletes, regular exercisers, people at ideal body weights and nonsmokers generally have lower blood pressures but show none of the above symptoms. Most doctors consider patients to have hypotension only if they show symptoms of, or are affected by, the condition.

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