Orthostatic Hypotension: A Practical Approach to Investigation and Management

Can J Cardiol. 2017 Dec;33(12):1725-1728. doi: 10.1016/j.cjca.2017.05.007. Epub 2017 May 17.


The maintenance of blood pressure upon the assumption of upright posture depends on rapid cardiovascular adaptations driven primarily by the autonomic nervous system. Failure of these compensatory mechanisms can result in orthostatic hypotension (OH), defined as sustained reduction in systolic blood pressure > 20 mm Hg or diastolic blood pressure > 10 mm Hg within 3 minutes of standing or > 60° head-up tilt. OH is a common finding, particularly in elderly populations, associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular morbidity and mortality. Therefore, it is important to identify OH in the clinical setting. The detection of OH requires blood pressure measurements in the supine and standing positions. A more practical approach in clinics might be measurement of seated and standing blood pressure, but this can produce smaller depressor responses because of reduced gravitational stress. Heart rate responses to standing should be concomitantly measured to assess integrity of baroreflex function. Patients with OH can present with symptoms of cerebral hypoperfusion on standing predisposing to syncope and falls; however, many patients are asymptomatic. When the diagnosis of OH is established, it is important to document potentially deleterious medications and comorbidities and to assess for neurogenic autonomic impairment to establish underlying causes. Treatment should be initiated in a structured and stepwise approach starting with nonpharmacological interventions (eg, lifestyle modifications and physical countermanoeuvres), and adding pharmacological interventions as needed in patients with severe OH (eg, midodrine, droxidopa, fludrocortisone). The treatment goal in OH should be to improve symptoms and functional status, and not to target arbitrary blood pressure values.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular System / physiopathology*
  • Disease Management*
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic* / diagnosis
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic* / physiopathology
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic* / therapy
  • Posture / physiology*