When Low Blood Pressure Is An Emergency: Call 911

low blood pressure is an emergency

The majority of talk involving blood pressure typically centers around the topic of high blood pressure. High blood pressure effects more people but low blood pressure can be just as important. Most of the time low blood pressure is not a problem, and it’s even desirable. But there are times when low blood pressure is an emergency. I have to admit, it’s strange discussing ways to raise blood pressure instead of lowering it.

When is low blood pressure an emergency? Low blood pressure is an emergency when the BP number is too low (there’s no certain number, but experts say a systolic number less than 90 mmHg and a diastolic number less than 60 mmHg) and there are the following symptoms:

  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of concentration
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Pale skin
  • Clammy skin 

This blog post will cover in more detail what to do in an emergency and mistakes people make when their blood pressure falls suddenly. I’ll also tell you how to avoid low pressure, the symptoms and treatments. Low blood pressure is an important topic and must be taken seriously because the consequences to your body can be severe.

When Low Blood Pressure Is An Emergency

Many people have low blood pressure and typically it’s not an emergency. They don’t have any other symptoms and their low readings are normal. For those people it’s good to let your doctor know what is going on but it’s not considered a problem. If you don’t have health insurance or you’re looking to change your plan, you can check out the best affordable plans right for you. I wrote a blog post on it right here.

Some people might get a sudden decrease in their blood pressure, and it’s the result of a medical condition or medicine. Sometimes the sudden drop in blood pressure is accompanied with one of the symptoms above like dizziness, fainting or signs of shock. If this happens, it’s considered an emergency and 911 should be called (resource). If you’re going into shock, it’s considered a severe situation, don’t wait hoping things will return to normal.

Shock is when your organs and tissues are not getting enough blood and oxygen. This can cause damage to the tissues and cells in your body. Shock can be a life threatening condition and why 911 should be called right away. There are different kinds of shock which can be caused by any of the following:

  • Loss of blood or fluids
  • Internal or external bleeding
  • Burns
  • Dehydration
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Infections in the blood
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • The heart can’t pump blood effectively
  • Damage to the nervous system

Causes Of Low Blood Pressure

There are many causes of low blood pressure. Some are minor which only cause low blood pressure without any other symptoms. More severe causes of low blood pressure can lead to emergencies like tissue damage, shock or even death (resource).

Prolonged bed rest: Your blood circulation decreases because of lack of movement.

Decrease in blood volume: A loss of blood volume can cause your blood pressure to drop. The loss in volume can happen due to trauma, internal bleeding or dehydration.

Certain medications: The following drugs may cause low blood pressure:

  • Some heart and high blood pressure medications like beta-blockers and diuretics.
  • Drugs for Parkinson’s disease.
  • Erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants.
  • Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs when combined with blood pressure medications.

Pregnancy: Typically, in the first 6 months of pregnancy blood pressure is often low.

Heart problems: Problems with heart valves, low heart rate, and heart failure can cause low blood pressure. This is because the heart may be unable to circulate enough blood through the body.

Nutritional deficiencies: Anemia can be caused by a lack of folic acid and B-12 which can cause low blood pressure.

Endocrine problems: Complications with hormone-producing glands in the endocrine system can cause low blood pressure like:

  • An underactive thyroid
  • Addison’s disease
  • Parathyroid disease
  • Low blood sugar
  • Diabetes

Severe Infection: A severe infection, like septic shock, can occur when bacteria leaves the infection and enters the bloodstream. The bacteria then produces toxins that affect the blood vessels, leading to a life-threatening decline in blood pressure.

Neurally mediated low blood pressure: This causes your blood pressure to drop after standing for long periods of time. This can lead to dizziness, fainting and nausea.

Allergic reactions: Sometimes fatal allergic reactions can occur in highly sensitive people to certain drugs, foods or bee stings. This is why peanut allergies are in the news lately and why you see it mentioned on menus. In addition, this is why the doctor’s office asks about any allergies to medication like penicillin.

low blood pressure

Symptoms Of Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure symptoms are extremely important because they are what makes the difference between just having low blood pressure or low blood pressure that’s an emergency (resource).

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: Dizziness can be caused by many things including low blood pressure. It’s the feeling of being unbalanced or woozy.
  • Fainting: Also know as syncope. It’s a temporary loss of consciousness that’s typically related to insufficient blood flow to the brain.
  • Nausea: It’s feeling of uneasiness and discomfort and gives you the urge to vomit.
  • Dehydration: Lack of fluids can cause low blood pressure. Sometimes, it’s another problem that’s causing the dehydration. If you’re taking blood pressure medication, overuse of diuretics, vomiting, severe diarrhea, fever and strenuous exercise can cause dehydration
  • Blurred vision: A lack of sharpness that results in the inability to see in detail.
  • Lack of concentration: low blood pressure can make it hard to focus.
  • Pale, cold, clammy skin: In addition to losing the color, your skin can feel wet or sweaty.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing: You’re taking more breaths than normal in a given minute.
  • Fatigue: A lack of energy or motivation.
  • Depression: Loss of interest in activities.

Low Blood Pressure Consequences

Low blood pressure means that your organs are not getting enough blood and oxygen. When your low blood pressure is an emergency, the following severe complications can occur (resource):

Heart Attack: When your heart loses a supply of blood.

Stroke: Persistent low blood pressure can cause the brain to fail rapidly.

Kidney failure: When insufficient blood is delivered to the kidneys, they don’t eliminate wastes from the body. The amount of waste in the blood increases.

Shock: Shock is a life-threatening condition as a result of low blood flow throughout the body (resource). The main symptom of shock is low blood pressure. The following are the different kinds of shock:

  • Hypovolemic shock: Caused by severe fluid and blood loss. The heart is unable to pump enough blood to the body, or there’s not enough blood to deliver oxygen through the body.
  • Cardiogenic shock: This occurs when a damaged heart is unable to supply enough blood to the body.
  • Septic shock: When bacteria enters the blood producing toxins that lead to a decline of blood pressure.
  • Anaphylactic shock: Sometimes fatal, an allergic reaction that can result in a dramatic fall in blood pressure.

Diagnosing Low Blood Pressure

Diagnosis is crucial whether your low blood pressure is an emergency with symptoms or there’s low blood pressure alone. The doctor will try to determine the underlying cause of the low blood pressure. If an underlying condition is determined, then that condition will be addressed which should correct the low blood pressure. To help with your diagnosis, it’s always good to keep track of any symptoms, activities at the time and a record of your blood pressure at home (resource).

If you’re not doing so already, it’s an excellent idea to keep track of your blood pressure at home. Home monitors are affordable and are worth every penny. To see what monitor I use and recommend, check out my blog post in this same website right here.

The doctor may do the following when making a diagnosis:

  • Check your medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Record your blood pressure
  • Blood tests: The results of a blood test can provide information about your overall health, blood sugar levels and red blood cell count. All of these can cause your blood pressure to be low.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): This is when electrodes are attached to your chest, arms and legs. This painless process reads your heart’s electrical signals and records them. An EKG can detect an irregular heart rhythm, structural abnormalities to your heart and other problems with the heart’s supply of blood and oxygen. It’s possible the doctor may want you to wear a monitor for 24 hours to record your heart’s activity as you go about your daily routine.
  • Echocardiogram: This is an ultrasound of your chest which shows detailed images of your heart’s structure and function.
  • Stress test: A stress test makes your heart work harder than at rest to make it easier to diagnosis a heart problem. Typically, they will have you walk on a treadmill while they record your heart with an EKG or echocardiogram.
  • Valsalva maneuver: This is a particular way of breathing that increases the pressure in your chest causing changes in your heart rate and blood pressure. Normally, you’ll take a deep breath and then force air out through your lips. The purpose is to check the function of your autonomic nervous system, which regulates bodily functions like heart rate and respiratory rate.
  • Tilt table test: A tilt table test can evaluate how your body reacts to different positions like standing up. During the test you’ll lie on a table and connected to an EKG and a blood pressure cuff. They’ll move the table from a lying down position to straight up and monitor your BP and heart for any changes.

blood pressure emergency

Treatments For Low Blood Pressure

If you have low blood pressure that is not an emergency, there may not be any treatment. Your doctor may continue to monitor you and have you do the same at home. But if there are symptoms in addition to your low blood pressure, there will likely be some form of treatment depending on your underlying cause. Depending on your symptoms, low blood pressure and age, the treatments will vary and can include the following (resource):

Add more sodium to your diet: Typically, under average conditions doctors would like you to reduce sodium because it can raise blood pressure. But for people who have low blood pressure, this may be a good thing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean you binge on high salt food and eat anything in sight. Your doctor will have you raise your sodium intake in healthier ways.

Increase your amount of fluids with more water: Adding fluids will increase your blood volume, prevent dehydration and can raise your blood pressure.

Start to wear compression stockings: These stockings are normally worn on your legs below the knee. They are used to help relieve pain and pressure associated with varicose veins. For low blood pressure, they can help prevent pooling of blood in your lower legs and move the blood elsewhere.

Prescribed medications: Several medications can be used to raise blood pressure. The following are 2 of the most common low blood pressure medications:

  • Fludrocortisone: This is used to treat low blood pressure that occurs when standing up. Fludrocortisone does this by increasing your blood volume.
  • Midodrine: This drug also helps raise standing blood pressure by restricting the ability of your blood vessels to expand which raises blood pressure.

Related Questions

What is a low blood pressure diet? A doctor may have you do the following to help raise your blood pressure:

  • Eat smaller meals: This can help prevent lower blood pressure after a meal.
  • Drink caffeinated tea with meals.
  • Consume more sodium: Raising your sodium in a healthy way can increase your blood pressure.
  • Drink more water: Increasing your fluids can increase blood volume which may raise your blood pressure.

Why do I have low blood pressure and a high pulse? Your heart rate may speed up and your blood pressure decrease due to dehydration, severe infection or bleeding. Your heart may increase and contract faster to increase blood flow and try to increase your blood pressure when it’s low.

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Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on blood pressure topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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