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Low blood pressure just as dangerous

“Between March and May, I was away from work because I had low blood pressure,” Ann (not real name) begins her story on her first-time encounter with low pressure.

“I was a first- time mother and was stressed because I didn’t know how to juggle home and work life. I wasn’t eating and I was always fainting.”

The fainting spells and general lack of well-being forced her to ask for leave from work, hoping she would get better. But as time went on, she got worse and was hospitalised for a week. Prior to the hospitalisation, Ann did not know low blood pressure was the cause of her troubles.

“I heard the doctors saying that my blood pressure was very low. They were saying it was 55,” Ann recalls.

“I started developing all these problems after I had my son via C-section,” Ann says. The bleeding from the C-section operation, poor nutritional choices (not drinking and eating enough) yet she was pumping milk, and the quick return of her menstruation periods after birth, could have resulted in low blood pressure.

What is low blood pressure?

Low blood pressure, according to medicinenet.com, is “blood pressure that is low enough that flow of blood to the organs is inadequate and signs and symptoms of low blood pressure develop”.

Dr Diana Nasike of Kiwoko hospital says blood pressure below 100/60 is considered low.

“The average person has blood pressure readings of 120/80 but we consider systolic [upper] readings between 100 and 130 normal and diastolic [lower] readings between 60 and 89 are also considered normal,” Nasike says.

She says she has seen individuals with readings as low as 90/60 and these are functioning properly and so they do not need to see a doctor. It is only when symptoms of low blood pressure manifest with low blood pressure readings that one needs to seek medical attention, according to the American Heart Society.

“Within certain limits, the lower your blood pressure reading is, the better. There is no specific number at which day-to-day blood pressure is considered too low, as long as no symptoms of trouble are present.  As long as you are not experiencing symptoms of low blood pressure, there is no need for concern,” reads some of the information on the American Heart Society webpage.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of low blood pressure include light-headedness, dizziness, dehydration and unusual thirst, nausea, fatigue, depression, blurred vision, lack of concentration, rapid and shallow breathing and fainting.”

These symptoms are most prominent when individuals go from the lying or sitting position to the standing position,” medicinet.com says.

Causes

According to the website, and the American Heart Society, causes include reduced volume of blood, heart disease and medications (say diuretics which may reduce blood volumes). Blood volumes may reduce because of bleeding and dehydration which may occur as a result of vomiting and diarrhoea.

Other causes of low blood pressure include pregnancy, septic shock (when bacteria leave original site of infection and enter the bloodstream), nutritional deficiencies (especially of essential vitamins B-12 and folic acid) and severe allergic reactions.

Treatment

“Because we often see low blood pressure in individuals who are bleeding, vomiting or have diarrhoea, we often give fluids as treatment,” Nasike says.

Intravenous fluids play a big role in the treatment of low blood pressure as they increase volume of blood, returning blood pressure to normal. Where low blood pressure is as a result of bleeding, the cause of bleeding is treated, and fluids may be given and so may blood transfusions.

Generally, low blood pressure is treated by removing its cause; if it is as a result of septic shock, antibiotics and fluids are given. If diuretics are causing low blood pressure symptoms, dosage is reduced and so on.

Nasike, however, says there are people, say those with heart disease, whose blood pressure needs to be kept low and these are given medications to lower it.

dnabiruma@observer.ug

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