What is orthostatic hypotension?

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Orthostatic hypotension: Overview

Orthostatic hypotension is a quick drop in blood pressure. It happens when you get up from sitting or lying down. You may feel faint, lightheaded, or dizzy.

When a person sits up or stands up, the body changes the way it pumps blood. This can slow the flow of blood to the brain for a very short time. And that can make you feel lightheaded.

Many medicines can cause this problem, especially in older people. Lack of fluids (dehydration) or illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease also can cause it.

Orthostatic hypotension

Orthostatic hypotension is a rapid and sudden decrease in blood pressure that occurs when a person changes position, such as rising from a sitting or lying position to standing, or when standing motionless in one position. Symptoms of orthostatic hypotension may include lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting (syncope).

When a person sits up or stands up, the body adjusts the way it pumps blood to maintain blood flow to the brain. If the blood flow changes occur too slowly after the person stands up, the blood flow to the brain may be temporarily reduced, causing the person to feel lightheaded or to faint. Most people do not have orthostatic hypotension symptoms when they change position.

Orthostatic hypotension is often caused or made worse by dehydration. Other causes include diabetes, heart disease, and nervous system problems. Many medications cause orthostatic hypotension.

Treatment can involve adjusting medicines and increasing fluid intake.

How can you care for orthostatic hypotension?

  • Be safe with medicines. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, sit down or lie down for a few minutes. Or you can sit down and put your head between your knees. This will help your blood pressure go back to normal and help your symptoms go away.
  • Follow your doctor's suggestions for ways to prevent symptoms like dizziness. These suggestions may include:
    • Get up slowly from bed or after sitting for a long time. If you are in bed, roll to your side and swing your legs over the edge of the bed and onto the floor. Push your body up to a sitting position. Wait for a while before you slowly stand up.
    • Add more salt to your diet, if your doctor recommends it.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • Avoid or limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Alcohol may interfere with your medicine. In addition, alcohol can make your low blood pressure worse by causing your body to lose water.
    • Wear compression stockings to help improve blood flow.

Orthostatic hypotension: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.