Having low blood pressure can be a real pain. High blood pressure gets much more attention and there is clear guidance available to doctors to help people reduce high blood pressure. Sadly low blood pressure isn’t so easily treated.
I wrote an earlier post about low blood pressure and the fact that it can make you feel unwell. In particular it can make you feel dizzy, weak or faint. But I’ve since seen several people asking what they can do to improve their low blood pressure so thought I’d expand on that here.
Are you ill?
Firstly, low blood pressure can be a sign of serious illness so if you feel significantly unwell then do see your doctor. Abdominal symptoms such as pain, nausea and vomiting or weight loss would certainly require further investigation if combined with low blood pressure. A few simple blood tests can go a long way to reassuring you and your doctor that there is unlikely to be anything serious going on. Thankfully, this will be the case for most people.
The good news about the conditions that may be uncovered on a blood test is that most of them are quite treatable. I won’t go into detail about that here as the vast majority of people won’t be in this group.
Some people will have low blood pressure because we doctors have inadvertently caused it by giving you some medication. This can occur when your blood pressure is measured when you aren’t relaxed (for instance, at the doctors!) and then medication is increased. When you relax at home your blood pressure may then be too low. The app which we are releasing soon will help you get an accurate home blood pressure reading which you can show your doctor. Hopefully this will help this group of people to avoid this happening in the first place!
However, a lot of us will find ourselves with low blood pressure and no great explanation for why. So if we don’t know why it’s happening, how can we treat it? Well, although the underlying cause may not be found, it is often possible to still increase low blood pressure through some simple changes.
Stay well hydrated
If you get dehydrated, your blood pressure may drop. This is the last thing you need if it is already low. Water is the best thing to drink. Caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, coke etc) and alcohol are best avoided as much as possible as they can lead to dehydration.
Eat more salt
Yes, that’s right. The complete opposite to what every doctor has ever told you before! A higher salt intake can increase your blood pressure BUT there is a good reason that doctors are usually nagging you to reduce it. In the wrong person a high salt intake can cause significant problems to their health (affecting the heart and kidneys) so it is best to discuss this with a health professional before going ahead.
Help the blood get where it needs to go
Most of the symptoms from low blood pressure occur because blood isn’t getting where it needs to go fast enough. This is particularly true of your brain. Being at the top of your body it is particularly vulnerable to low blood pressure. Not surprisingly, a poor blood supply to the brain will make you feel faint and dizzy. Stockings which squeeze your legs tightly will result in less of your blood being down there and more being higher up your body where it may be more useful. These support stockings are sold in most pharmacies and are often marketed at people with varicose veins.
Avoid doing things which might take blood away from where it needs to go
Like above, ‘where it needs to go’ is mostly your brain. A big meal can cause problems so eating little and often may improve matters. Standing up quickly may also stop the blood being able to reach your brain, so getting up gradually can help. Doing a few seconds of stretches before getting up can get the blood moving and help keep it flowing up to your brain.
Take some medication
Finally, there are some medications which can either increase the volume of your blood (like drinking more water can) or keep your blood vessels narrower. Both these approaches can increase low blood pressure. Both types of medication are usually started by specialists rather than GPs in the UK, although GPs often continuing prescribing them once they’ve had advice from a specialist.
In summary, begin with a few simple tests, adjust any medications, then more water, more salt (maybe), stockings, small meals and get up slowly. A few medications do exist for the unlucky few who remain unwell after that.