Low blood pressure (also called hypotension) can be caused by a number of underlying conditions, lifestyle factors, and everyday behaviors—sometimes as simple as standing up too quickly.
Occasional drops in blood pressure in otherwise healthy individuals are not typically cause for concern, and are not always associated with other symptoms.
In other instances, less common symptoms like a severe headache can occur.
When this happens, it’s important to understand what is causing your hypotension and the additional symptoms you may be experiencing.
Can Low Blood Pressure Cause Headaches?
Although it’s not a common symptom, low blood pressure can cause headaches.
A rare condition known as spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH)—a condition in which fluid pressure inside the skull is lower than normal—can be the culprit when it comes to these types of headaches.
What is the Connection Between Blood Pressure and Headaches?
These types of headaches are also called orthostatic, and occur when changes in the blood pressure of your head occur dramatically.
They are known as postural, meaning they are associated with the position or posture of your body.
For example, if you bend over and suddenly move upright, you may experience a painful headache.
According to The BMJ, the postural nature is assumed to be due to loss of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the tough outer layer of tissue that protects the brain.
There are several underlying causes for these types of headaches including:
- Spontaneous intracranial hypotension (SIH)
- Post-dural puncture (resulting from spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)
- Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) fistula
These headaches can be severe.
They can be eased by lying down, but worsened in the upright position, which may result in sufferers being bed bound.
Other symptoms closely associated with intracranial hypotension and headaches include:
What Causes Low Blood Pressure
A variety of factors, from certain medications to medical conditions, can cause short- and long-term drops in blood pressure.
Medicines and substances that can cause low blood pressure include:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Medication for high blood pressure, such as beta blockers and alpha blockers
- Erectile dysfunction medication
- Some medications for Parkinson’s disease
Conditions that can cause low blood pressure include:
Conditions that can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure include:
- Loss of blood from bleeding
- Low body temperature
- Sepsis (a severe blood infection)
- Severe dehydration from vomiting, diarrhea, or fever
- A reaction to medication or alcohol
- Anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction)
Types of Low Blood Pressure
Low blood pressure is divided into three major types.
- Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension): This occurs when blood pressure drops due to a change in position—most commonly, when someone goes from lying down to standing up.
- Postprandial hypotension: This type of low blood pressure occurs when blood pressure drops 1-2 hours after eating a meal. It is most common in older adults, especially those with high blood pressure or autonomic nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
- Neurally mediated hypotension (vasovagal syncope): This type of low blood pressure occurs when blood pressure drops after standing for a long time, or in response to stress or fear. It is most common in young adults and children.
Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure
Hypotension is often asymptomatic, meaning it has no symptoms.
This is why it’s common for it to go unnoticed.
When symptoms are present, they may include:
- Blurry vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Lack of concentration
- Unusual thirst
Maintaining Your Blood Pressure
Lower than normal blood pressure in a healthy person that does not cause any symptoms often does not require treatment.
In other cases, treatment depends on the symptoms and the underlying cause of low blood pressure.
Both lifestyle changes and medication can help manage low blood pressure.
Some other ways to maintain healthy blood pressure include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Getting regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Not smoking
- Managing stress
- Monitoring your blood pressure at home
When to See a Medical Provider
If you’re experiencing headaches in conjunction with other symptoms of low blood pressure such as frequent, unexplained fainting or dizziness, contact your doctor or healthcare provider.
Also contact a doctor if you have:
- Black or maroon stools
- Chest pain
- Fever higher than 101°F (38.3°C)
- Irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
When you visit, your doctor will check your blood pressure and may perform blood, urine, or imaging tests to determine if you have hypotension.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Low pressure headaches caused by spontaneous intracranial hypotension. (2014).
Spontaneous intracranial hypotension: a cause of severe acute headache. (2007).
Low Blood Pressure - When Blood Pressure Is Too Low. (2016).
Spontaneous Intracranial Hypotension. (2020).