In most cases, low blood pressure is not a cause for concern. However, in rare instances, it can lead to shock, in which case it may require emergency medical attention.
Low blood pressure, known medically as hypotension, is when a person’s blood pressure lies below the normal ranges. Usually, it is not an issue, so people may not even be aware their blood pressure is low. Doctors may only take note of it if it starts causing symptoms.
Keep reading to learn more about when low blood pressure is an emergency, as well as what the symptoms, causes, and treatment options are.
In many cases, low blood pressure readings are not a cause for concern. A person with low blood pressure may not even be aware that their blood pressure is low, as it does not cause symptoms in many cases.
There is also no specific cutoff point at which blood pressure becomes too low or dangerously low, as it may vary from person to person.
Some people may have chronic low blood pressure and can be otherwise healthy. The American Heart Association (AHA) note that most doctors will only consider chronic low blood pressure to be dangerous if it causes other symptoms.
Severe symptoms that come on suddenly may also be a cause for concern.
While symptoms may vary from person to person, they typically include:
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- difficulty concentrating
- blurred vision
- pale, clammy skin
- rapid, shallow breathing
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, they should contact a doctor.
When blood pressure is very low or drops rapidly, it can also be a medical emergency. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) note that extremely low drops in blood pressure may put the body’s organs at risk of not getting enough blood, which may lead to shock.
Some concerning signs accompanying very low blood pressure to look out for include:
- rapid, shallow breathing
- very weak but rapid pulse
- cold, clammy skin
- loss of consciousness
- blue hue to the skin
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek emergency medical attention.
A number of underlying conditions and other health issues may also play a role in low blood pressure. These include:
- loss of blood
- nutrient deficiencies
- internal bleeding
- some medications
- heart problems
- endocrine disorders
- severe infections, such as septic shock or a bloodstream infection
- allergic reactions leading to anaphylaxis
Lying down for longer periods of time may also contribute to low blood pressure.
A person with any of these conditions who experiences low blood pressure should check in with a doctor regularly to monitor their health issue and its effect on blood pressure.
The AHA indicate that a healthy blood pressure range is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
Concerning ranges generally include higher blood pressure ranges, such as a systolic number over 130 or a diastolic number over 80. These higher numbers indicate stages of higher blood pressure that a person should try to lower.
There is no set cutoff point for what doctors consider low blood pressure, and it may vary from person to person. The NHLBI consider blood pressure to be low when it is under 90/60 mm Hg.
Even at these levels, some people may experience no symptoms. Addressing low blood pressure may only be necessary if symptoms occur, which is an indication that low blood pressure may be affecting the body.
Low blood pressure itself is generally not a cause for concern until it gets too low and begins causing symptoms. Managing any issues that influence blood pressure may help prevent these numbers from dropping too low.
For example, people taking high blood pressure medications should monitor their dosage and blood pressure to be sure their numbers do not drop too low.
If their blood pressure starts dropping lower than usual, they should contact a doctor. The doctor may want to adjust the medication or check for interactions with anything else the person may be taking.
Managing other individual risk factors from underlying conditions may also help prevent blood pressure from getting too low.
According to the NHLBI, in some cases, people do not need treatment for low blood pressure. Instead, it may be enough to try some simple lifestyle recommendations and treatments, which include:
- drinking more fluids
- changing how a person sits or stands
- making dietary changes
- wearing compression stockings
Doctors may also recommend changes in some medication, such as adjusting medications for high blood pressure if they lead to dangerously low blood pressure.
Doctors will discuss any and all treatments with the patient in each case, and their exact recommendations may vary.
If a person experiences low blood pressure along with concerning symptoms — such as a loss of consciousness, mental confusion, and a weak, rapid pulse and breathing pattern — they should seek immediate medical attention.
In the emergency room, doctors may ask questions about a person’s medical history, medications they may be taking, or any infections or accidents they may have had.
They may ask about or check for symptoms. They may also administer tests to check heart rate and blood pressure, and imaging tests to check the internal body and organs for other issues.
Even if a person is experiencing mild rather than severe symptoms along with low blood pressure, they should still seek guidance from a doctor.
Doctors may want to monitor the symptoms and test the blood pressure themselves to make any necessary diagnosis and administer treatment.
Aside from these events, a person may have low blood pressure and be in otherwise good health.
Low blood pressure can occur without medical issue, and in many cases, it is not a cause for concern. People with chronic low blood pressure may need to work with their doctor to find treatment for any symptoms that appear.
Low blood pressure may be a cause for immediate concern if it is very low and occurs with severe symptoms, such as shock.
Anyone experiencing the symptoms of shock should seek emergency medical attention.
If a person is experiencing other uncomfortable symptoms due to low blood pressure, they should contact a doctor for recommendations to keep their blood pressure within healthy ranges.