We have heard about the warnings of hypertension, but low blood pressure is equally as dangerous. Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can occur for a number of reasons and can be harmless in most cases. However, a sudden fall in blood pressure can still be dangerous. What are the symptoms and when should you worry?
According to registered dietitian Hayley Cimring, when blood pressure is too low, oxygen and nutrients can’t get to the brain and other vital organs.
“Chronic low blood pressure with no symptoms is almost never serious. But health problems can occur when blood pressure drops suddenly, and the brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. This can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.”
Cimring is the nutrition team leaders at the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.
Keeping your blood pressure normal
According to Cimring, there are numerous techniques to treat hypotension. You can eat a sprinkle of extra salt but be careful not to go overboard she says. It would be in your best interest to also seek medical advice from your doctor before making any changes to your diet, she adds.
“Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for heart disease.”
Cimring also says that fluids can boost blood volume and help prevent dehydration, both of which are vital in the treatment of hypotension.
While crossing your legs when sitting and wearing compression stockings, sometimes known as support stockings, are two ways to enhance blood flow.
Foods that are good for blood pressure
According to Jandrí Barnard, spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), if hypotension is left untreated it may lead to a heart attack or stroke, inflicting long-term damage to your heart and brain.
She also tells Health For Mzansi that regular exercisers like athletes, non-smokers, and persons who maintain an appropriate body weight, are more likely to have low blood pressure.
People with hypotension can benefit by adding these foods to their diet:
- Vitamin B12
Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia and low blood pressure, as it is necessary for making red blood cells. It is found mainly in eggs, dairy, fish, poultry, and red meat, while for people who are vegans or vegetarian vitamin B12 supplements are necessary.
Increasing your salt intake can make the blood hold more fluid, thus increasing blood volume and consequently increasing blood pressure. Adding foods such as smoked fish, olives and other pickled foods can help increase blood pressure but remember that an excess intake of salt can increase the risk of hypertension.
Caffeine, found mainly in coffee, tea, and chocolate, is a stimulant and can increase your blood pressure. Thus, it should still be taken sparingly or as a morning drink.
Drinking more water can help to increase your blood pressure, as low blood pressure is often caused by low blood volume. Drinking sufficient water (1 – 1.5 liters daily) will increase your blood volume and then increase your blood pressure. Remember that more active individuals should drink more water, especially during warmer weather, to prevent dehydration.
- Beans & Legumes
It is high in folate (vitamin B9) which is essential for the production of red blood cells, as a folate deficiency can cause anaemia. A diet rich in beans, citrus fruits, eggs, and dark leafy green vegetables aid in preventing anaemia and low blood pressure, while it also adds fibre to your intake, explains Barnard.
‘Foolproof’ lifestyle tips
Cimring advises hypotension patients to exercise but cautions them to visit a doctor before beginning a new fitness regimen. She also says that rapid changes in posture may cause symptoms such as dizziness, blurred vision, and nausea.
She suggests avoiding the following:
- Big meals as they may cause more dramatic drops in blood pressure, as your body works harder to digest larger meals.
- Alcohol because it is dehydrating and can lower blood pressure, even if drinking in moderation and
- Sudden position changes.
Cimring adds that in the rare case of a big drop, such as those caused by a heart attack, uncontrolled bleeding, or severe infections it can be a life-threatening emergency.
“Each of these conditions affects the flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke.”