Orthostatic hypotension affects 20-30% of the population over 65.1 Orthostatic hypotension or postural hypotension is a form of low blood pressure that occurs when you stand up from a sitting or lying down position. It is defined as a drop in systolic blood pressure by ≥20 mmHg and ≥10 mmHg for diastolic blood pressure. Normal individuals only have a 5-10 mmHg drop in their systolic blood pressure when standing. There are many pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapies used to treat orthostatic hypotension. Examples of pharmacologic therapy include midodrine and fludrocortisone, whereas nonpharmacologic therapies involve body manipulation, postural changes and diet. Note that the use of fludrocortisone in the management of orthostatic hypotension is considered an off-label use of this medication.
Midodrine targets the alpha adrenergic receptors on the vasculature, but does not target the central nervous system therefore this medication is not associated with central nervous side effects because it does not cross the blood brain barrier. Midodrine is often dosed 2-3 times daily at a starting dose of 2.5mg with peak effect at 25-30 minutes. Doses are often increased rapidly until response is achieved with a maximum of 30mg per day.2 Potential adverse effects include uterine contractions, tachycardia, headaches, palpitations and arterial hypertension, especially in supine position.2 Final doses of midodrine should be taken 4 hours prior to bedtime in order to reduce supine hypertension.
Fludrocortisone is a mineralocorticoid. This medication stimulates the release of salt into the bloodstream. By increasing blood volume there is a rise blood pressure. Therapy is initiated at 0.1mg per day. Peak effect occurs in 1-2 weeks therefore dosing should be increased at weekly or biweekly intervals. Most patients obtain optimal blood pressure control at 0.3-0.4mg per day. Potential adverse effects include hypokalemia and hypomagnesemia, supine hypertension, and headache.3 In addition, the patient may gain up to 8 pounds in weight when maximal effect of therapy is achieved.3
Nonpharmacologic therapy in orthostatic hypotension can provide an integral role in reducing a blood pressure drop upon standing. Therapies include an addition of salt to the diet or salt tablets in order to correct salt depletion due to polyuria and poor oral intake. Moderate physical exercise has been shown to improve orthostatic tolerance. Compression stockings and abdominal binders have been shown to be effective, although if patient can tolerate, abdominal binders have been shown to be more effective. Physical maneuvers such as crossing the legs or bending forward can help raise blood pressure. Another approach to a nonpharmacologic treatment for orthostatic hypotension is sleeping in the head up position. Although, the efficacy of head tilt has not been determined. It is important to have the patient stand up slowly from the supine position. Also, prolonged exposure to heat can exacerbate orthostatic hypotension. Therefore, reducing exposure can limit complications.4
In concluding, a combination of pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies should be considered in treating orthostatic hypotension. The methods summarized in this article can provide beneficial outcomes. Using these methods, it is possible to reduce undesired issues with orthostatic hypotension such as falls, loss of consciousness and even broken bones.
1. Rutan G, Hermanson B, Bild D, Kittner S, LaBaw F, Tell G. Orthostatic hypotension in older adults. The Cardiovascular Health Study. CHS Collaborative Research Group. Hypertension. 1992;19(6_Pt_1):508-519. doi:10.1161/01.hyp.19.6.508..
2. Doyle. Midodrine: use and current status in the treatment of hypotension. Br J Cardiol. 2012;19(1). doi:10.5837/bjc.2012.007.
3. Medow M, Stewart J, Sanyal S, Mumtaz A, Sica D, Frishman W. Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Orthostatic Hypotension and Vasovagal Syncope. Cardiology in Review. 2008;16(1):4-20. doi:10.1097/crd.0b013e31815c8032.
4. Thompson, P., Wright, J., & Rajkumar, C. (2011). Non-pharmacological treatments for orthostatic hypotension. Age and ageing, 40(3), 292-293.