What is orthostatic hypotension?
Orthostatic hypotension — also called postural hypotension — is a form of low blood pressure that happens when you stand up from sitting or lying down. Orthostatic hypotension can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded, and maybe even faint.
Orthostatic hypotension may be mild and last for less than a few minutes. However, long-lasting orthostatic hypotension can signal more-serious problems, so it’s important to see a doctor if you frequently feel lightheaded when standing up.
Occasional (acute) orthostatic hypotension is usually caused by something obvious, such as dehydration or lengthy bed rest, and is easily treated. Chronic orthostatic hypotension is usually a sign of another health problem, so treatment varies.
How common is orthostatic hypotension?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of orthostatic hypotension?
The common symptoms of orthostatic hypotension are:
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy after standing up
- Blurry vision
- Fainting (syncope)
The most common symptom is lightheadedness or dizziness when you stand up after sitting or lying down. Symptoms usually last less than a few minutes.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Occasional dizziness or lightheadedness may be fairly minor — triggered by mild dehydration, low blood sugar or overheating. Dizziness or lightheadedness may also happen when you stand after sitting for a long time. If these symptoms happen only occasionally, there’s likely no cause for concern.
It’s important to see your doctor if you experience frequent symptoms of orthostatic hypotension because they can signal serious problems. It’s even more urgent to see a doctor if you lose consciousness, even for just a few seconds.
Keep a record of your symptoms, when they occurred, how long they lasted and what you were doing at the time. If these occur at dangerous times, such as while driving, discuss this with your doctor.
What causes orthostatic hypotension?
When you stand up, gravity causes blood to pool in your legs and abdomen. This decreases blood pressure because there’s less blood circulating back to your heart.
Normally, special cells (baroreceptors) near your heart and neck arteries sense this lower blood pressure. The baroreceptors send signals to centers in your brain, which signals your heart to beat faster and pump more blood, which stabilizes blood pressure. These cells also narrow the blood vessels and increase blood pressure.
Orthostatic hypotension occurs when something interrupts the body’s natural process of counteracting low blood pressure. Many different conditions can cause orthostatic hypotension, including:
- Fever, vomiting, not drinking enough fluids, severe diarrhea and strenuous exercise with excessive sweating can all lead to dehydration, which decreases blood volume. Mild dehydration can cause symptoms of orthostatic hypotension, such as weakness, dizziness and fatigue.
- Heart problems. Some heart conditions that can lead to low blood pressure include extremely low heart rate (bradycardia), heart valve problems, heart attack and heart failure. These conditions prevent your body from responding rapidly enough to pump more blood when standing up.
- Endocrine problems. Thyroid conditions, adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can cause orthostatic hypotension, as can diabetes — which can damage the nerves that help send signals regulating blood pressure.
- Nervous system disorders. Some nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy, Lewy body dementia, pure autonomic failure and amyloidosis, can disrupt your body’s normal blood pressure regulation system.
- After eating meals. Some people experience low blood pressure after eating meals (postprandial hypotension). This condition is more common in older adults.
What increases my risk for orthostatic hypotension?
There are many risk factors for orthostatic hypotension, such as:
- Orthostatic hypotension most often occurs in the elderly. “Hardening of the arteries” or atherosclerosis that develops as we age makes it more difficult for blood vessels to adapt quickly when necessary. As well, many of the diseases that are associated with orthostatic hypotension are progressive, with symptoms worsening with age.
- Pregnancy is associated with orthostatic hypotension. As the pregnancy progresses, the volume of the circulatory system expands and blood pressure tends to fall. This may lead to lightheadedness when standing quickly. Blood pressure levels return to normal after delivery.
- Excessive sweating due to physical exertion and exposure to heat are risk factors and potential causes of dehydration and symptoms of orthostatic hypotension. Patients who have other risk factors to develop orthostatic hypotension have an increased risk if they become even mildly dehydrated.
- Chronic alcohol use and drug abuse are also risk factors for developing symptoms of orthostatic hypotension.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is orthostatic hypotension diagnosed?
Your doctor’s goal in evaluating orthostatic hypotension is to find the underlying cause, and determine appropriate treatment for any health problems that may cause your low blood pressure. The cause isn’t always known.
Your doctor may review your medical history, review your symptoms and conduct a physical examination to help diagnose your condition.
Your doctor also may recommend one or more of the following:
- Blood pressure monitoring. Your doctor will measure your blood pressure both while you’re sitting and while you’re standing and will compare the measurements. Your doctor will diagnose orthostatic hypotension if you have a drop of 20 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) in your systolic blood pressure or a drop of 10 mm Hg in your diastolic blood pressure within two to five minutes of standing up, or if standing causes signs and symptoms.
- Blood tests. These can provide information about your overall health, including low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or low red blood cell levels (anemia), both of which can cause low blood pressure.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG). This noninvasive test detects irregularities in your heart rhythm or heart structure, and problems with the supply of blood and oxygen to your heart muscle.During this painless, noninvasive test, soft, sticky patches (electrodes) are attached to the skin of your chest, arms and legs. The patches detect your heart’s electrical signals while a machine records them on graph paper or displays them on a screen. Sometimes, heart rhythm abnormalities come and go, and an ECG won’t find any problems. If this happens, you may be asked to wear a 24-hour Holter monitor to record your heart’s electrical activity as you go about your daily routine.
- In this noninvasive exam, sound waves are used to produce a video image of your heart. Sound waves are directed at your heart from a wandlike device (transducer) that’s held on your chest.The sound waves that bounce off your heart are reflected through your chest wall and processed electronically to provide video images of your heart in motion to detect underlying structural heart disease.
- Stress test. A stress test is performed while you’re exercising, such as walking on a treadmill. Or you may be given medication to make your heart work harder if you’re unable to exercise. When your heart is working harder, your heart will be monitored with electrocardiography, echocardiography or other tests.
- Tilt table test. A tilt table test evaluates how your body reacts to changes in position. You’ll lie on a flat table that tilts to raise the upper part of your body, which simulates the movement from a horizontal to standing position. Your blood pressure is taken frequently as the table is tilted.
- Valsalva maneuver. This noninvasive test checks the functioning of your autonomic nervous system by analyzing your heart rate and blood pressure after several cycles of a type of deep breathing: You breathe in deeply and push the air out through your lips, as if you were trying to blow up a stiff balloon.
How is orthostatic hypotension treated?
The goal of treatment for orthostatic hypotension is to restore normal blood pressure. That usually involves increasing blood volume, reducing the pooling of blood in your lower legs and helping blood vessels to push blood throughout your body.
Treatment often addresses the underlying cause — dehydration or heart failure, for example — rather than the low blood pressure itself.
For mild orthostatic hypotension, one of the simplest treatments is to sit or lie down immediately after feeling lightheaded upon standing. Your symptoms should disappear.
When low blood pressure is caused by medications, treatment usually involves changing the dose of the medication or stopping it entirely.
Orthostatic hypotension treatments include:
- Lifestyle changes. Your doctor may suggest several lifestyle changes, including drinking enough water; drinking little to no alcohol; avoiding overheating; elevating the head of your bed; avoiding crossing your legs when sitting; and standing up slowly.
- If you don’t also have high blood pressure, your doctor might suggest increasing the amount of salt in your diet. If your blood pressure drops after eating, your doctor may recommend small, low-carbohydrate meals.
- Compression stockings. Compression stockings and garments or abdominal binders may help reduce the pooling of blood in your legs and reduce the symptoms of orthostatic hypotension.
- Several medications, either used alone or together, can be used to treat orthostatic hypotension. For example, the drug fludrocortisone is often used to help increase the amount of fluid in your blood, which raises blood pressure. Midodrine raises standing blood pressure levels by limiting expansion of your blood vessels, which in turn raises blood pressure.
- Droxidopa (Northera) may be prescribed to treat orthostatic hypotension associated with Parkinson’s disease, multiple system atrophy or pure autonomic failure.
- Other medications, such as pyridostigmine (Regonol, Mestinon), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), caffeine and epoetin (Epogen, Procrit, others), are sometimes used, too, either alone or with other medications for people who aren’t helped with lifestyle changes or other medications.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage orthostatic hypotension?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with orthostatic hypotension:
- Increase salt in your diet. This must be done carefully and only after discussing it with your doctor. Too much salt can cause your blood pressure to increase beyond a healthy level, creating new health risks.
- Eat small meals. If your blood pressure drops after eating, your doctor may recommend small, low-carbohydrate meals.
- Ask about vitamin supplements. Both anemia and vitamin B-12 deficiency can affect blood flow and worsen symptoms of orthostatic hypotension, so iron and vitamin supplements might be helpful for you if you’re deficient.
- Get plenty of fluids. Keeping hydrated helps prevent symptoms of low blood pressure. Drink plenty of water before long periods of standing, or any activities that tend to trigger your symptoms.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can worsen orthostatic hypotension, so limit or avoid it completely.
- Regular cardiovascular and strengthening exercises may help reduce symptoms of orthostatic hypotension. Avoid exercising in very hot, humid weather. Stretch and flex your calf muscles before sitting up. If symptoms strike, squeeze your thigh, abdominal and buttock muscles. Squat, march in place or rise onto your tiptoes.
- Avoid bending at the waist. If you drop something on the floor, squat with your knees to recover it.
- Wear waist-high compression stockings. These may help improve blood flow and reduce the symptoms of orthostatic hypotension. Wear them during the day, but take them off for bed and anytime you lie down.
- Get up slowly. You may be able to reduce the dizziness and lightheadedness that occur with orthostatic hypotension by moving slowly from a lying to standing position. Also, when getting out of bed, sit on the edge of your bed for a minute before standing.
- Elevate your head in bed. Sleeping with the head of your bed slightly elevated can help fight the effects of gravity.
- Move your legs while standing. If you begin to get symptoms while standing, cross your thighs in a scissors fashion and squeeze, or put one foot on a ledge or chair and lean as far forward as possible. These maneuvers encourage blood to flow from your legs to your heart.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/orthostatic-hypotension/manage/ptc-20324969. Accessed July 18, 2017.
Orthostatic Hypotension (Low Blood Pressure When Standing). http://www.medicinenet.com/orthostatic_hypotension/page3.htm. Accessed July 18, 2017.
Review Date: July 20, 2017 | Last Modified: July 20, 2017