Low blood pressure is a risk and should be taken seriously
We all know that high blood pressure increases the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke but rarely is information presented on the risks of low blood pressure. A number of medical studies have claimed little or no serious medical risk associated with low blood pressure with serious medical risk only being defined as a heart attack and stroke. Other medical studies suggest that low blood pressure does increase the risk of coronary artery disease, falling and even increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In both traditional and on-traditional medicine, low blood pressure is usually ignored even if there are clinical findings of the blood pressure being too low.
The medical risks of chronic high blood pressure are now well defined. But it was not always the case. At the turn of the century, high blood pressure was so common in the elderly that it was considered the natural result of aging. The famous Framingham Heart Study (1949-1952) showed that those with a systolic blood pressure over 159 had a three to six times increased of heart disease. Since then the relationship between high blood pressure and illnesses has been clearly delineated. As a result, many medications are available to lower high blood pressure are available and numerous lives saved.
Low blood pressure is not uncommon but with the increasing use of medications, not limited to blood pressure medications, low blood pressure has become a relatively common. Besides high blood pressure medications, drugs often used for Parkinson's disease, depression/anxiety, sedative-hypnotics, pain medications and muscle relaxants all can cause low blood pressure. This effect can be intensified when specific medications are used in combination.
There is limited clinical research on low blood pressure but two recent medical studies are pertinent today. One large study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine looked at the risk of falls and loss of consciousness in almost one half a million people with low blood pressure. The concluded that a systolic blood pressure less than 110 significantly increased the risk of serious falls and loss of consciousness.
Another study in the Indian Heart Journal found that there is an increased risk of atrial fibrillation in people who had a history of dizziness with standing (serious low blood pressure). Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that increases the risk of blood clots, stroke and heart failure. It most commonly occurs in the elderly as does low blood pressure. Interestingly high blood pressure is also a risk factor for atrial fibrillation. In this study low blood pressure also increased the risk of stroke and a 50 to 100 percent increased mortality rate probably secondary to a higher incidence of coronary heart disease and heart failure.
Traditional therapy for low blood pressure includes graded exercise, generous salt intake and caution going from sitting/laying to standing. I have found that a critical review of a patient's medications, select herbs and regular meditation can be curative. Low blood pressure should be taken as seriously as high blood pressure.
• Dr. Patrick Massey, M.D., Ph.D., is and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.