What is Low Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels, and constitutes one of the principal vital signs of life, which also include heart beat, rate of breathing, and temperature. Blood pressure is generated by the heart pumping blood into the arteries and is regulated by the response by the arteries to the flow of blood.
An individual’s blood pressure is expressed as systolic/diastolic blood pressure, for example, 120/80. The systolic blood pressure (the top number) represents the pressure in the arteries as the muscle of the heart contracts and pumps blood into them. The diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) represents the pressure in the arteries as the muscle of the heart relaxes after it contracts. Blood pressure always is higher when the heart is pumping (squeezing) than when it is relaxing.
Systolic blood pressure for most healthy adults falls between 90 and 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal diastolic blood pressure falls between 60 and 80 mm Hg. Current guidelines define normal blood pressure as lower than 120/80. Blood pressures over 130/80 are considered high. High blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis or arteriosclerosis), eye damage, and stroke.
Low blood pressure (hypotension) is pressure so low it causes symptoms or signs due to the low flow of blood through the arteries and veins. When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney, the organs do not function normally and may be permanently damaged.
Unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure is defined primarily by signs and symptoms of low blood flow and not by a specific blood pressure number. Some individuals may have a blood pressure of 90/50 with no symptoms of low blood pressure and therefore do not have low blood pressure. However, others who normally have high blood pressure may develop symptoms of low blood pressure if their blood pressure drops to 100/60.
How is blood pressure generated?
During relaxation of the heart (diastole) the left ventricle of the heart fills with blood returning from the lungs. The left ventricle then contracts and pumps blood into the arteries (systole). The blood pressure during contraction of the ventricle (systolic pressure) when blood is being actively ejected into the arteries is higher than during relaxation of the ventricle (diastolic pressure). The pulse that we can feel when we place our fingers over an artery is caused by the contraction of the left ventricle.
Blood pressure is determined by two factors: 1) The amount of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart into the arteries, and 2) the resistance to the flow of blood caused by the walls of the arterioles (smaller arteries).
Generally, blood pressure tends to be higher if more blood is pumped into the arteries or if the arterioles are narrow and stiff. (Narrow and stiff arterioles, by resisting the flow of blood, increase blood pressure.) This often happens when older patients develop atherosclerosis.
Blood pressure tends to be lower if less blood is being pumped into the arteries or if the arterioles are larger and more flexible and, therefore, have less resistance to the flow of blood.
Low Blood Pressure
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What is Low Blood Pressure?
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