Can a Drop in Blood Pressure Signal Heart Failure?

It happens to most people from time to time: you stand up and suddenly the room starts to spin, or your vision gets fuzzy for a second or two.

These are signs of a sudden drop in your blood pressure, and they’re usually not a cause for concern. But studies have found that people who get them a lot may have a higher chance of having heart failure later on. That’s a condition in which your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should.

Scientists need to do more research to understand the connection, but it’s a good idea to be aware of how often you have these blood pressure changes.

How It Feels

A drop in blood pressure when you stand up is technically called orthostatic hypotension. Some people who have it won’t notice it, but most commonly, you’ll have symptoms for a few seconds after you stand, including:

There are many reasons this shift can happen. You might be dehydrated, have low blood sugar, or be taking medication that changes your blood pressure. But some research suggests it could be an early sign that your heart isn’t pumping blood as well as it should.

Heart Failure and Dropping Blood Pressure

Research has shown that people who have these dips in blood pressure on a regular basis are about 50% more likely to go on to have heart failure. In one study, those who had the symptom when they were under age 55 were even more likely to get heart failure years later than older people who had it.

Researchers aren’t sure why the two problems seem to be linked. Some think that orthostatic hypotension could be a sign of a buildup of plaque in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can lead to heart failure. Also, many of the same things that cause sudden blood pressure drops, such as some medications and health problems, also boost your odds for heart failure.

This doesn’t mean that everyone who gets sudden drops in blood pressure has -- or will have -- heart failure. Scientists need to do more research before they understand the connection and if it can predict the problem later on.

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When Should I Talk to My Doctor?

Feeling dizzy when you stand every once in a while is probably no cause for concern. But if you have the symptoms of orthostatic hypotension often, you should bring it up with your doctor so she can figure out what’s causing it. Before your appointment, keep a record of your symptoms, when they happen, and how long they last. If you fall during one of your dizzy spells, or have any of the following symptoms of heart failure, you should get medical help ASAP:

  • Chest pain
  • Fainting or severe weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat at the same time as shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting
  • Sudden, severe shortness of breath and coughing up pink, foamy mucus

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on June 29, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Orthostatic Hypotension,” “Heart Failure.”

Medscape: “Orthostatic Hypotension Ups Risk of HF by 50%.”

National Organization for Rare Diseases: "Orthostatic Hypotension."

Heart Failure Review: "Heart failure and orthostatic hypotension."

Merck Manual: “Dizziness or Light-Headedness When Standing Up.

American Family Physician: “Evaluation and Management of Orthostatic Hypotension.”

American Heart Association: "What is Heart Failure?”

Hypertension: “Orthostatic Hypotension as a risk factor for incident heart failure: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study.”

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