Orthostatic hypotension is associated with a 40 percent increase in atrial fibrillation. Orthostatic hypotension refers to a drop in blood pressure when a person changes positions, for example, when getting up from a chair. This dip in blood pressure can result in temporary dizziness or lightheadedness.
Researchers uncovered the link between orthostatic hypotension and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat). The study uncovered that bouts of orthostatic hypotension increase the risk of atrial fibrillation by 40 percent over the course of two decades.
The research findings suggest that doctors need to be more diligent in diagnosing orthostatic hypotension as a means of detecting atrial fibrillation early on. Living with atrial fibrillation undiagnosed greatly increases a person’s risk for stroke, along with heart disease and dementia.
Atrial fibrillation treatment commonly involves blood thinners along with other medications that can help regulate heart rhythm.
Study leader Sunil Agarwal explained, “We hope our research will sensitize physicians to a possible link between orthostatic hypotension and atrial fibrillation, and that they will go the extra step to see if something more serious is going on when patients experience rapid blood pressure fluctuations.”
The researchers looked at 12,071 men and women enrolled in the Atherosclerosis Risks in Communities (ARIC) study. The participants provided socioeconomic indicators, medical history, family history, cardiovascular disease risk factors, serum chemistries, electrocardiograms, medication use, and anthropometric information at baseline. Three follow-up visits were conducted along with annual telephone calls and active surveillance of hospital visits and death.
Five percent of the patients were diagnosed with a rapid drop in blood pressure when changing physical position. During the follow-up period, 11.9 percent of patients developed atrial fibrillation. Those diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension had a 40 percent higher risk of developing irregular heartbeat, compared to those without orthostatic hypotension.
Agarwal concluded, “We need more research into whether there is any sort of causal relationship between orthostatic hypotension and atrial fibrillation, or whether it is simply a marker of dysfunction of autonomic nervous system or generally poor health.”
Treatment for orthostatic hypotension
Symptoms of orthostatic hypotension include dizziness, blurred vision, lightheadedness, mental confusion, nausea, muscle tremors, and fainting. This can be a dangerous condition because it can increase a person’s risk of injury – particularly, if a senior is living alone and the dizziness or blurry vision leads to a fall, for example.
There are things you can do to self-help – here are a few suggestions.
- Prop your head up with pillows while in bed.
- Get up slowly when in a seated or horizontal position.
- Wear support stockings to minimize pooling of blood in legs.
- Eat small, frequent meals to reduce spikes and drops in blood pressure.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Drink small, but regular doses of caffeine.
- Avoid vigorous exercise, hot baths, saunas, and any environment with extreme heat.
- Avoid standing without moving for long periods of time.
- Avoid ascending quickly in high altitudes.
- Check your blood pressure regularly.
There are also medications that can increase fluid in the blood to better help regulate blood pressure.
By following these tips, you can better improve the symptoms associated with orthostatic hypotension. The new findings suggest that it can progress to a serious neurological disease, so don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor about your symptoms and their frequency.