Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension)

What are the causes of low blood pressure? (Part 2)

Causes of low blood pressure due to heart disease

  • Weakened heart muscle can cause the heart to fail and reduce the amount of blood it pumps. One common cause of weakened heart muscle is the death of a large portion of the heart's muscle due to a single, large heart attack or repeated smaller heart attacks. Other examples of conditions that can weaken the ability of the heart to pump blood include medications that are toxic to the heart, infections of the muscle of the heart by viruses (myocarditis), and diseases of the heart's valves such as aortic stenosis that reduce the flow of blood from the heart and into the arteries.
  • Pericarditis is an inflammation of the pericardium (the sac surrounding the heart). Pericarditis can cause fluid to accumulate within the pericardium and compress the heart, restricting the ability of the heart to expand, fill, and pump blood.
  • Pulmonary embolism is a condition in which a blood clot in a vein (deep vein thrombosis) breaks off and travels to the heart and eventually the lung. A large blood clot can block the flow of blood into the left ventricle from the lungs and severely diminish the blood returning to the heart for pumping. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency.
  • A slow heart rate (bradycardia) can decrease the amount of blood pumped by the heart. The resting heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 and 100 beats/minute. Bradycardia (resting heart rates slower than 60 beats/minute) does not always cause low blood pressure. In fact, some highly trained athletes can have resting heart rates in the 40s and 50s (beats per minute) without any symptoms. The slow heart rates are offset by more forceful contractions of the heart that pump more blood than in non-athletes. But in many patients bradycardia can lead to low blood pressure, lightheadedness, dizziness, and even fainting.

Several common reasons for bradycardia include: 1) sick sinus syndrome, 2) heart block, and 3) drug toxicity. Many of these conditions occur in the elderly.

  1. Sick sinus syndrome: Sick sinus syndrome occurs when the diseased electrical system of the heart cannot generate electrical signals fast enough to maintain a normal heart rate.
  2. Heart block: Heart block occurs when the specialized tissues that transmit electrical current in the heart are damaged by heart attacks, degeneration from atherosclerosis, and medications. Heart block prevents some or all of the electrical signals from reaching parts of the heart, and this prevents the heart from contracting as well as it otherwise would.
  3. Drug toxicity: Drugs such as digoxin (Lanoxin) or beta blockers for high blood pressure can slow the transmission of electricity in the heart chemically and can cause bradycardia and hypotension (see section "Medications that cause low blood pressure").

An abnormally fast heart rate (tachycardia) also can cause low blood pressure. The most common example of tachycardia causing low blood pressure is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a disorder of the heart characterized by rapid and irregular electrical discharges from the muscle of the heart causing the ventricles to contract irregularly and (usually) rapidly. The rapidly contracting ventricles do not have enough time to fill maximally with blood before each contraction, and the amount of blood that is pumped decreases in spite of the faster heart rate. Other abnormally rapid heart rhythms such as ventricular tachycardia also can produce low blood pressure, sometimes even life-threatening shock.

Reviewed on 7/14/2014
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