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Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension) Symptoms and Treatments

What is low blood pressure? What do the numbers mean (chart with ranges)?

Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels. It constitutes one of the critically important signs of life or vital signs which include heart rate, breathing, and temperature. Blood pressure is generated by the heart pumping blood into the arteries modified by the response of 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 following its contraction.

Blood pressure always is higher when the heart is pumping (squeezing) than when it is relaxing.

The range of systolic blood pressure for most healthy adults falls between 90 and 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal diastolic blood pressure ranges between 60 and 80 mm Hg. Current guidelines define normal blood pressure range as lower than 120/80. Blood pressures over 130/80 are considered high. High blood pressure increases the risk of damaging the arteries which leads to the development of:

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 temporarily or 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 routinely may have blood pressure numbers of 90/50 with no symptoms and therefore do not have low blood pressure. However, others who normally have higher blood pressures may develop symptoms of low blood pressure if their blood pressure drops to 100/60.

In pregnancy, blood pressure tends to decrease. Normal blood pressure during pregnancy may be lower than 100/60. Blood pressure should be monitored by the obstetrician during pregnancy.

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Reviewed on 9/28/2017
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