I always thought that I was lucky because I never had to deal with the consequences of high blood pressure. I never, ever remember a blood pressure reading that was above 120/80. In most instances, my blood pressure readings were lower than the norm. I was under the mistaken impression that blood pressure couldn’t be too low.
I was wrong. I have encountered a number of occasions when medical professionals and their aides have been alarmed when they took my blood pressure and saw readings like 78/53: The ambulance crew trainee who took my blood pressure after I blacked out on the treadmill. The technician who performed pulmonary tests as part of my annual treadmill stress test. An employee who monitored my blood pressure readings at the heart monitoring center. The readings were very low in terms of what they normally witnessed. After living with, and even researching, the consequences of low blood pressure, I can understand now why they were shocked. But they also need to understand that because I have lived with low blood pressure for so long, I sometimes just don't get what the big deal is.
"I am pretty sure that the low blood pressure in my case is due to a long-standing tendency for low blood pressure combined with having to taking or 4 medications a day that can also lower my blood pressure. It isn’t that I mock my low blood pressure. I respect the fact that it is low, and I am always mindful that if I feel dizzy or light-headed, I need to slow down for a minute or so until my blood pressure regroups.
So for example, a few months ago I had a dentist appointment. I had been sitting in the waiting room for about 10 minutes when a dental hygienist called my name. But when I got to the door of the corridor where the examining rooms were located, I felt dizzy. Not to worry. I didn’t fall, not did I try to bluff my way back to the examining room. I just used common sense and said, "I’m sorry but I seem to be feeling a little dizzy."
So the hygienist took my arm and steadied me and we slowly made our way back to the examining room. The hygenist was very understanding as I explained to her what the issue was. No big deal, no drama, just the power of speaking up and using common sense. (I have been trying to do more of that lately in all areas of my life, with good results!) I can tell you that when you do have a bout of low blood pressure that makes you dizzy or lightheaded, it really helps when the people around you don’t panic. If you are having problems standing upright, someone has to have the presence of mind to steady you until your blood pressure stabilizes.
For some people, there might be hope found in a very common substance - but I'm not one of those people. I came across a website the other day that mentioned foods that can raise low blood pressure. Here was one item on the list: “Salt helps to treat low blood pressure because the sodium present in it raises the blood pressure. But care should be taken not to include excess salt as it may result in other clinical conditions.“ Great! A substance I not only liked but adored for years, is a thing that can raise my blood pressure so I’m not a walking zombie. Unfortunately, it, will also make me retain so much water that I will look like a blimp! For me, this tops the list of cruel jokes from Mother Nature. But having low blood pressure for most of my life, and heart problems for four years of my life, I have grudgingly adapted to going cold turkey on something I love even if it sometimes means a bout of dizziness.
But what if, unlike me, you have had normal blood pressure throughout your life. Then suddenly you start to have low blood pressure. You might be concerned as to whether you need to see a doctor. So you go on-line in search of what a worrisome reading might be. Well, good luck with that! The American Heart Association says “Within certain limits, the lower your blood pressure reading is, the better. There is also no specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered too low, as long as none of the symptoms of trouble are present.”
So if you can’t focus on the actual numbers of your reading, the next thing you should do is determine if you have symptoms that are troubling. Below are the signs or symptoms that the American Heart Association wants you to be on the lookout for:
About the symptoms in the above list, first, dizziness and fatigue are often my companions. But in my particular case, I have talked enough to the doctors and experienced the symptoms enough to know that they are my new normal. I haven’t noticed huge marked difference in the dizziness since I started taking about three medications have a side effect of dizziness and so it is manageable. The fatigue is probably a little more pronounced, but manageable as well and may be due to having a weak heart and not just my blood pressure. I know when and how to tone my activity down a notch until I get my energy back. But if you have been healthy up until now and are starting to feel either dizzy and/or fatigued, well my advice for you is that it is time to have a chat with your doctor.
You may also notice the link between the term fainting and the term syncope – I’ve commented on that strange word syncope in past blog posts. It sounds like you should be on Dancing With the Stars because you obviously have a rhythmic aptitude for being a dance superstar. But no, what it really means is that you have blacked out and on the floor with people standing over you wondering what just happened. I think it would be enough to just call this fainting, but for some reason, my medical reports all assign the word syncope to a tendency to have a fainting spell. I thought perhaps that it might be a Latin term, but the Merriam Webster dictionary does not indicate that this is a Latin term. There is a non-medical definition of syncope: the loss of one or more sounds or letters in the interior of a word. Hmm - I need to ask my friends and family – when I blacked out in the past, were my words missing their interiors when I regained consciousness and began to speak?????
The American Heart Association article contains an interesting caveat about the symptom of dehydration:
Dehydration can sometimes cause blood pressure to drop. However, dehydration does not automatically signal low blood pressure. Fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, overuse of diuretics and strenuous exercise can all lead to dehydration, a potentially serious condition in which your body loses more water than you take in. Even in mild dehydration (a loss of as little as 1 percent to 2 percent of body weight) can cause weakness, dizziness and fatigue. I take this advice seriously over the last four years. Even though I have to limit my fluid intake, I am very conscious in hot weather that I must stay hydrated. This is just another one of those balance things that I need to practice to make sure that despite a damaged heart. I focus on staying as hydrated as possible given my circumstances, and I try to keep in the best physical shape I can be.
If you have symptoms of low blood pressure, what will your doctors want to investigate? The American Heart Association lists the following: pregnancy, decreases in blood volume, medications (including over the counter), heart problems, endocrine problems, severe infection (septic shock), allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), neutrally mediated hypotension (low blood pressure when one has been standing for a long period); and nutritional deficiencies.
To bottom line it for you, I have concluded that there are two types of low blood pressure: normally low, and abnormally low. I’ve said it before in this post, but it is worth reinforcing. For most of my life, low blood pressure has been my norm, and is now exacerbated by medications. But if your blood pressure suddenly lowers, and remains consistently lower, this is the time to speak up because you probably are experiencing abnormally low blood pressure. You have a symptom that could be evidence of a bigger medical problem. The symptom may be something that can be easily explained and not be evidence of a major medical problem. But that is a matter for your doctor to decide and not you. So make sure you keep in touch with the people who know.
And don’t worry if like me, it turns out that you have chronic low blood pressure. It automatically qualifies you to be a legitimate, authentic user of the new Zombie emoji!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.