Orthostatic Hypotension and Fall Risk

Personal Injury Lawyer

In a healthy person, blood pressure levels fluctuate somewhat throughout the course of a normal day. However, some people have chronically high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Hypertension is common among the elderly population, and many nursing home residents take medications to lower it.

Unfortunately, research has shown a strong relationship between the medications used to treat high blood pressure and an increased risk of falls. Blood pressure medications may increase the effects of a condition called orthostatic hypotension, as a nursing home lawyer, like from Brown Kiely, LLP, can explain.

What Is Orthostatic Hypotension?

Hypotension is the medical term for low blood pressure, i.e., it is the opposite of hypertension. When a person remains in a sitting or lying position for too long, blood starts to pool in the lower extremities. When a person stands up too quickly after a prolonged period in a reclined position, it causes a drop in pressure because the blood that has pooled is not circulating. This drop in blood pressure is called orthostatic hypotension.

Most people have experienced occasional bouts of orthostatic hypotension. They are usually mild and resolve within a matter of seconds, but they can cause lightheadedness, dizziness, brief visual changes, and momentary disorientation.

How Do Blood Pressure Medications Affect Orthostatic Hypotension?

The body has mechanisms in place to regulate the effects of orthostatic hypotension. In a healthy person, these mechanisms work quickly and a person typically experiences only fleeting symptoms before obtaining equilibrium. However, because hypertension medications are supposed to lower blood pressure, they can interfere with one’s recovery from a bout of orthostatic hypotension. The symptoms may last longer. Even without blood pressure medication, orthostatic hypotension can sometimes cause a person to pass out, and this may be more likely in a person on blood pressure medications. Dizziness and disorientation from orthostatic hypotension may also be sufficient to cause a person to fall.

What Are the Fall Risks From Blood Pressure Medication?

The risk of a fall in people who take blood pressure medication is comparable to the risk for people who do not. People who take moderate doses of blood pressure medication seem to be at the highest risk for a serious fall at 11.6%. The risk for those taking high doses is 10.9%, and the risk for those not taking blood pressure at all is 9%.

Because of the likelihood of stroke or heart attack from hypertension, taking blood pressure medication may be worth the risk. However, patients who experience orthostatic hypotension symptoms with blood pressure medication should discuss it with their doctors.

Nursing homes should make efforts to manage fall risks for patients. Contact an office if you or a loved one has had a serious fall in a long-term care facility.