Condition in which blood pressure is abnormally low. It may result from reduced blood volume (e.g., from heavy bleeding or plasma loss after severe burns) or increased blood-vessel capacity (e.g., in syncope). Orthostatic hypotension—drop in blood pressure on standing—results from failure of the reflexes that contract muscles and constrict blood vessels in the legs to offset gravity as one rises. Hypotension is also a factor in poliomyelitis, shock, and barbiturate poisoning.
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In physiology and medicine, hypotension refers to an abnormally low blood pressure. This is best understood as a physiologic state, rather than a disease. It is often associated with shock, though not necessarily indicative of it. Hypotension is the opposite of hypertension, which is high blood pressure. Hypotension can be life-threatening.
Decreased cardiac output despite normal blood volume, due to severe congestive heart failure, large myocardial infarction, or bradycardia, often produces hypotension and can rapidly progress to cardiogenic shock. Arrhythmias often result in hypotension by this mechanism. Beta blockers can cause hypotension both by slowing the heart rate and by decreasing the pumping ability of the heart muscle. Varieties of meditation and/or other mental-physiological disciplines can create temporary hypotension effects, as well, and should not be considered unusual.
Excessive vasodilation, or insufficient constriction of the resistance blood vessels (mostly arterioles), causes hypotension. This can be due to decreased sympathetic nervous system output or to increased parasympathetic activity occurring as a consequence of injury to the brain or spinal cord or of dysautonomia, an intrinsic abnormality in autonomic system functioning. Excessive vasodilation can also result from sepsis, acidosis, or medications, such as nitrate preparations, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin II receptor inhibitors or ACE inhibitors. Many anesthetic agents and techniques, including spinal anesthesia and most inhalational agents, produce significant vasodilation.
Neurocardiogenic syncope is a form of dysautonomia characterized by an inappropriate drop in blood pressure while in the upright position. Neurocardiogenic syncope is related to vasovagal syncope in that both occur as a result of increased activity of the vagus nerve, the mainstay of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Another, but rarer form, is postprandial hypotension, which occurs 30–75 minutes after eating substantial meals. When a great deal of blood is diverted to the intestines to facilitate digestion and absorption, the body must increase cardiac output and peripheral vasoconstriction in order to maintain enough blood pressure to perfuse vital organs, such as the brain. It is believed that postprandial hypotension is caused by the autonomic nervous system not compensating appropriately, because of ageing or a specific disorder.
Low blood pressure is sometimes associated with certain symptoms, many of which are related to causes rather than effects of hypotension: