Most of the time, when we talk about blood pressure and seniors, we talk about the dangers of untreated high blood pressure. However, there are times when low blood pressure levels can also be a problem.
Low blood pressure generally means a reading lower than 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for the top number (systolic) or 60 mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic).
What’s considered low blood pressure for one person might be perfectly fine for someone else. Some seniors may have no symptoms, while others might experience severe symptoms.
This is why it’s important to know the potential symptoms of low blood pressure, how to treat them at home, and when it’s time to encourage your parent to see a healthcare provider.
What are the effects of low blood pressure in seniors?
For many seniors, slightly low blood pressure levels don’t cause any effects at all. In that case, it typically doesn’t need treatment, and monitoring is fine.
For others, though, blood pressure that drops suddenly or causes symptoms can be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Some common symptoms of low blood pressure (or “hypotension” in medical terms) include:
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Trouble concentrating or confusion
Orthostatic hypotension or postural hypotension is a condition that happens when your blood pressure drops suddenly when you stand up from a sitting position.
Another effect of low blood pressure that is more common in elderly patients is called postprandial hypotension. This occurs when your blood pressure drops suddenly within 75 minutes after having a meal.
The biggest concern about symptomatic low blood pressure in seniors is that it puts them at increased risk of falls and fall-related injuries.
What can cause low blood pressure levels in seniors?
Low blood pressure levels are most commonly an effect of another health condition or medication. Some possible causes of low blood pressure in seniors include the following.
Medications: taking too much medicine to treat high blood pressure (anti-hypertensives), sleeping medicines, anti-anxiety medications, pain medications, diuretics (water pills), nitrites (used for chest pain), steroids, or some herbal supplements.
Temporary health conditions: dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia (low blood iron levels), vitamin B12 deficiency, illness or infection, or being out of shape after being on bed rest for an extended period.
Long-standing health conditions: nerve pain in the hands and feet due to diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, kidney issues, heart disease, or chronic alcohol use.
If your parent is experiencing symptoms of low blood pressure, encourage them to make an appointment with their primary care provider. Some causes of low blood pressure levels, like medications and temporary health conditions, can be corrected. Others, such as chronic health issues, can be managed to reduce symptoms.
How is low blood pressure treated in the elderly?
At your parent’s appointment, their provider will want to perform an exam and some testing to find the cause of their symptoms.
Testing related to low blood pressure might include:
Blood tests to help diagnose thyroid issues, blood sugar issues, or low red blood cell count
An electrocardiogram to measure the electrical activity in the heart
A tilt table test to see how the body reacts to changes in position
Increasing the amount of salt in your parent’s diet
Giving intravenous fluids for dehydration
Giving iron pills or blood transfusion for anemia
Ordering compression stockings or an abdominal binder
There are also several medications that can be used to treat hypotension if other measures don’t work. The two most common are fludrocortisone (Florinef), a corticosteroid that helps boost blood volume, and midodrine (Orvaten), which causes blood vessels to tighten and raises blood pressure.
Your parent’s provider will also teach them how and when they should be monitoring their blood pressure at home.
Tips for managing low blood pressure levels at home
Once your parent has consulted with their healthcare provider and made any suggested changes, here are some lifestyle remedies that might also help.
Drink more water. It increases blood volume and reduces dehydration. Consult your parent’s doctor first if they have heart failure, though.
Drink less alcohol. Alcohol is dehydrating, even in moderation.
Eat small, low-carb meals several times per day to prevent blood pressure from dropping sharply between meals.
Get up slowly. If going from lying to standing, spend several minutes sitting at the edge of the bed before trying to stand.
Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes every day but avoid hot, humid conditions.
Avoid long, hot showers or baths.
If symptoms start while standing, cross your thighs like a pair of scissors and squeeze (this will encourage blood to move upward).
Consider purchasing a home blood pressure testing cuff to so your parent can monitor their condition as suggested by a healthcare provider.
When to call a healthcare provider
If your parent is having signs that point to low blood pressure levels, you should always encourage them to make an appointment with their primary care provider to find out what might be causing it.
While slightly low blood pressure might not be a problem, extremely low levels can be a medical emergency that could lead to shock. There are also serious medical conditions that can have extremely low blood pressure as a symptom.
Seek emergency medical help immediately if your parent experiences any of the following:
Fever or stiff neck
Cold, clammy skin
Weak, fast heart rate
Blue lips or fingertips
These conditions could indicate that your parent is having a medical emergency.
Home health care and low blood pressure
Parentis’ Health’s home health nurses can help seniors manage medical conditions such as low blood pressure at home. This might include managing medications, monitoring health status, and health education.
If your parent has a health condition that causes low blood pressure, home healthcare can help you parent learn about and manage their condition. Contact us today and see how we can help your parent stay healthier at home.