Orthostatic hypotension

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Orthostatic hypotension
Other names: Orthostasis, postural, positional hypotension, neurogenic orthostatic hypotension
A person developing syncope post standing up
SpecialtyCardiology, neurology
SymptomsLightheadedness with standing[1]
ComplicationsFalls, heart disease[2]
TypesAcute, chronic[3]
Neurogenic, non-neurogenic[2]
CausesDecreased blood volume, certain medications, prolonged bed rest, autonomic neuropathy, multiple system atrophy[4][1]
Diagnostic methodBlood pressure lying and standing, tilt-table test[2]
Differential diagnosisAnemia, arrhythmia, heart failure, diabetes insipidus[5]
TreatmentDecreasing certain medications, physiotherapy, compression stockings, salt and water intake[1]
MedicationMidodrine, droxidopa, fludrocortisone[2]
PrognosisDepends on cause[1]

Orthostatic hypotension, also known as postural hypotension, is a sudden decrease in blood pressure when standing up.[1] Symptoms may include rapid onset of lightheadedness, blurry vision, confusion, and syncope with standing.[1][3] It is associated with an increased risk of falls, heart disease, and death.[2]

Causes include decreased blood volume; medications such as beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and alpha blockers; prolonged bed rest; autonomic neuropathy; Addison disease; and multiple system atrophy.[4][1][3] The underlying mechanism often involves insufficient compensation to pooling of blood in the legs with standing.[3] It is defined as a drop in systolic blood pressure of at least 20 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure of at least 10 mmHg with standing.[2] It is classified into neurogenic and non-neurogenic causes.[2]

Treatment involves addressing the underlying cause.[1] This may involve decreasing certain medications, physiotherapy, wearing compression stockings, increase salt and water intake, or medications such as midodrine.[1] Orthostatic hypotension is common, particularly among older people.[2] Over half of older people in care homes are affected.[2] It is the cause of many falls in older people.[3]

Signs and symptoms

Orthostatic hypotension is characterized by symptoms that occur after standing (from lying or sitting), particularly when done rapidly. Many report lightheadedness (a feeling that one might be about to faint), sometimes severe, or even actual fainting with associated fall risk.[6][7][8] With chronic orthostatic hypotension, the condition and its effects may worsen even as fainting and many other symptoms become less frequent. Generalized weakness or tiredness may also occur. Some also report difficulty concentrating, blurred vision, tremulousness, vertigo, anxiety, palpitations (awareness of the heartbeat), unsteadiness, feeling sweaty or clammy, and sometimes nausea. A person may look pale.[9] Some people may experience severe orthostatic hypotension with the only symptoms being confusion or extreme fatigue. Chronic severe orthostatic hypotension may present as fluctuating cognition/delirium.

Associated diseases

The disorder may be associated with Addison's disease, atherosclerosis (build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries), diabetes, pheochromocytoma, porphyria,[10] and certain neurological disorders, including autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy, multiple system atrophy, and other forms of dysautonomia. It is also associated with Ehlers–Danlos syndrome and anorexia nervosa. It is also present in many patients with Parkinson's disease or Lewy body dementia resulting from sympathetic denervation of the heart or as a side effect of dopaminomimetic therapy. This rarely leads to fainting unless the person has developed true autonomic failure or has an unrelated heart problem.[citation needed]

Another disease, dopamine beta hydroxylase deficiency, also thought to be underdiagnosed, causes loss of sympathetic noradrenergic function and is characterized by a low or extremely low levels of norepinephrine, but an excess of dopamine.[11]

Quadriplegics and paraplegics also might experience these symptoms due to multiple systems' inability to maintain normal blood pressure and blood flow to the upper part of the body.[citation needed]


Some causes of orthostatic hypotension include neurodegenerative disorders, low blood volume (e.g. caused by dehydration, bleeding, or the use of diuretics), drugs that cause vasodilation, other types of drugs (notably, narcotics and marijuana), discontinuation of vasoconstrictors, prolonged bed rest (immobility), significant recent weight loss, anemia,[12] or recent bariatric surgery.[13]



Orthostatic hypotension can be a side effect of certain antidepressants, such as tricyclics[14] or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).[15] Marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol can on occasion produce marked orthostatic hypotension.[16] Alcohol can potentiate orthostatic hypotension to the point of syncope.[17] Orthostatic hypotension can also be a side effect of alpha-1 blockers (alpha1 adrenergic blocking agents). Alpha1 blockers inhibit vasoconstriction normally initiated by the baroreceptor reflex upon postural change and the subsequent drop in pressure.[18]

Other factors

Patients prone to orthostatic hypotension are the elderly, post partum mothers, and those having been on bed rest. People suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa often suffer from orthostatic hypotension as a common side effect. Consuming alcohol may also lead to orthostatic hypotension due to its dehydrating effects.[citation needed]


Orthostatic hypotension happens when gravity causes blood to pool in the lower extremities, which in turn compromises venous return, resulting in decreased cardiac output and subsequent lowering of arterial pressure. For example, changing from a lying position to standing loses about 700 ml of blood from the thorax, with a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressures.[19] The overall effect is insufficient blood perfusion in the upper part of the body.[citation needed]

Normally, a series of cardiac, vascular, neurologic, muscular, and neurohumoral responses occurs quickly so the blood pressure does not fall very much. One response is a vasoconstriction (baroreceptor reflex), pressing the blood up into the body again. (Often, this mechanism is exaggerated and is why diastolic blood pressure is a bit higher when a person is standing up, compared to a person in the horizontal position.) Therefore, some factor that inhibits one of these responses and causes a greater than normal fall in blood pressure is required. Such factors include low blood volume, diseases, and medications.[citation needed]


Orthostatic hypotension can be confirmed by measuring a person's blood pressure after lying flat for 5 minutes, then 1 minute after standing, and 3 minutes after standing.[20] Orthostatic hypotension is defined as a fall in systolic blood pressure of at least 20 mmHg or the diastolic blood pressure of at least 10 mmHg between the supine reading and the upright reading. Also, the heart rate should be measured for both positions. A significant increase in heart rate from supine to standing may indicate a compensatory effort by the heart to maintain cardiac output. A related syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), is diagnosed when at least a 30 bpm increase in heart rate occurs with little or no change in blood pressure. A tilt table test may also be performed.[21]


Orthostatic hypotension (or postural hypotension) is a drop in blood pressure upon standing. One definition (AAFP) calls for a systolic blood pressure decrease of at least 20 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure decrease of at least 10 mm Hg within 3 minutes of standing.[22] A common first symptom is lightheadedness upon standing, possibly followed by more severe symptoms: narrowing or loss of vision, dizziness, weakness, and even syncope (fainting).[citation needed]


Orthostatic hypotension can be subcategorized into three groups - initial, classic, and delayed.[23][24][25]

Initial orthostatic hypotension is frequently characterized by a systolic blood pressure decrease of ≥40 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure decrease of ≥20 mmHg within 15 seconds of standing.[23] Blood pressure then spontaneously and rapidly returns to normal, so the period of hypotension and symptoms is short (<30 s).[23] Only continuous beat-to-beat BP measurement during an active standing-up maneuver can document this condition.[23]

Classic orthostatic hypotension is frequently characterized by a systolic blood pressure decrease of ≥20 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure decrease of ≥10 mmHg between 30 seconds and 3 min of standing.[24]

Delayed orthostatic hypotension is frequently characterized by a sustained systolic blood pressure decrease of ≥20 mm Hg or a sustained diastolic blood pressure decrease ≥of 10 mm Hg beyond 3 minutes of standing or upright tilt table testing.[25]


Lifestyle changes

Apart from treating underlying reversible causes (e.g., stopping or reducing certain medications, treating autoimmune causes), several measures can improve the symptoms of orthostatic hypotension and prevent episodes of syncope (fainting). Even small increases in the blood pressure may be sufficient to maintain blood flow to the brain on standing.[24]

In dysautonomic patients who do not have a diagnosis of high blood pressure, drinking 2–3 liters of fluid a day and taking 10 g of salt can improve symptoms, by maximizing the amount of fluid in the bloodstream.[24] Another strategy is keeping the head of the bed slightly elevated. This reduces the return of fluid from the limbs to the kidneys at night, thereby reducing nighttime urine production and maintaining fluid in the circulation.[24] Various measures can be used to improve the return of blood to the heart; the wearing of compression stockings and exercises ("physical counterpressure maneuvers" or PCMs) can be undertaken just before standing up (e.g., leg crossing and squatting).[24]


The medication midodrine can benefit people with orthostatic hypotension,[24][26] The main side effect is piloerection ("goose bumps").[26] Fludrocortisone is also used, although based on more limited evidence.[24]

A number of other measures have slight evidence to support their use - indomethacin, fluoxetine, dopamine antagonists, metoclopramide, domperidone, monoamine oxidase inhibitors with tyramine (can produce severe hypertension), oxilofrine, potassium chloride, and yohimbine.[27]


Robotic devices, such as the ERIGO machine, has been proven to help orthostatic hypotension in some patients. These machines adjust a patient's position from 0 degrees to 90 degrees in progressive increments, allowing the blood pressure to adjust more slowly.[28]


Orthostatic hypotension may cause accidental falls.[8] It is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and stroke.[29] Also, observational data suggest that orthostatic hypotension in middle age increases the risk of eventual dementia and reduced cognitive function.[30]

See also


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