In my little survey (Have you taken it yet?) a reader requested some information about low blood pressure, so I thought I’d do a post or two on the topic.
First, low blood pressure is a medical problem, so the first line of treatment will always be medical. Make sure your physician is aware of the blood pressure difficulties you’re having.
Now that we have that out of the way, there are non-pharmaceutical adjunctive management strategies that can help. But before we can understand those strategies, an understanding of what makes blood pressure is critical, so that’s where we’ll start.
When you get your blood pressure measured, you get numbers something like 120/80 mmHg. mmHg means “millimeters of mercury” above atmospheric pressure. It comes from when blood pressure was measured using actual mercury which was pressed up a little tube like this:
The numbers are significant as well. The top number is called “systolic,” which is the pressure in your major arteries when the heart pumps. The bottom number is called “diastolic,” which is the pressure in your major arteries when your heart relaxes.
120/80 mmHg is considered “average,” which can be a little misleading. Usually when you think of an “average,” a little over or a little under is perfectly ok. Not so in this case. Anything ABOVE 120/80 mmHg is actually not so good. Here’s a nice summary chart.
High blood pressure or hypertension is usually the more concerning abnormal reading. A reading of 140/90 or more falls in the hypertension range. Think of your arteries like a water hose. To increase the water pressure coming out of the hose, you put your thumb over the end, reducing the area that the water can come out of, so the water’s pressure increases. Same story with your blood pressure. The area of the artery in which your blood is flowing is decreased in high blood pressure. This can be caused by plaque clogging up your arteries (from a life-time of high fat food) or the muscles around your arteries aren’t relaxing like they’re supposed to.
Low blood pressure is just the opposite: 90/60 mmHg or less. There usually isn’t a mechanical reason, it is usually the muscles that aren’t working correctly.
Now that we understand the physiology and pathophysiology (the what and how it goes wrong) of blood pressure, stay tuned next time to learn what to do about low blood pressure outside of pills. Remember though, low blood pressure is a medical problem, so a physician really needs to check this out to get to the why this is happening. You’ve got to have a solid “why” before you can hone in on the best management strategies!