Lifestyle Changes for Autonomic Disorders
Physicians at NYU Langone may recommend lifestyle changes to help people with certain types of autonomic disorders manage their symptoms—in particular, those who experience hypotension, or low blood pressure. If done properly, these measures can lead to a dramatic improvement even without medication.
For Orthostatic Hypotension
You may find relief by performing physical counter-maneuvers—such as making a fist, crossing your legs, or clenching your buttocks—that can increase standing blood pressure.
Staying adequately hydrated is crucial to avoid a decrease in blood pressure. People with orthostatic hypotension should drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day.
Adding salt to meals helps the body retain fluids, which is useful to avoid a drop in blood pressure.
Exercise is crucial to keep muscles active. In order to avoid low blood pressure when exercising, people may benefit from performing recumbent exercises such as riding a stationary bicycle, using elastic bands for resistance training, and rowing. One of the best kinds of exercise for people with orthostatic hypotension is doing exercises in a pool. This is because the pressure of the water around the body prevents the fall in blood pressure.
For Postprandial Hypotension
Drinking 12 to 18 ounces of water 15 minutes before eating and eating smaller meals throughout the day can reduce the chances of triggering postprandial hypotension.
NYU Langone doctors also recommend eating fewer rapidly digested carbohydrates, such as white bread, white rice, potatoes, muffins, cookies, chocolate, bagels, and sugary beverages. Instead, consume slowly digested foods, such as whole grains, beans, and proteins, which can prevent blood pressure from falling after a meal.
Because blood pressure is usually lowest 30 to 60 minutes after a meal, it can be helpful to sit or lie down after eating. If you need to move around, watch for signs that your blood pressure is low, such as dizziness.
Avoid alcohol, which also contributes to low blood pressure.
For Either Cause of Hypotension
People with both postprandial and orthostatic hypotension may benefit from wearing compression stockings: waist-high elastic garments that are similar to tights. By exerting pressure against the legs, compression stockings reduce the diameter of the veins and increase blood flow in the legs.
Compression stockings may help reduce dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting. Knee- or thigh-high stockings are not as effective, and, therefore, our doctors don’t recommend them.
Some people find it useful to wear an abdominal binder, which is similar to a girdle. This helps to reduce blood pooling in the abdomen and improves blood pressure upon standing.
Sleeping with the head of the bed elevated in a semi-sitting position can lower blood pressure at night, helping to retain fluid in the body and improving symptoms of orthostatic hypotension in the morning.
Sleeping with the head of the bed raised can also reduce the number of times that you need to get up to urinate at night. There are bed wedge pillows and specially made blocks that can help.