Orthostatic hypotension is a physical finding defined by the American Autonomic Society and the American Academy of Neurology as a systolic blood pressure decrease of at least 20 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure decrease of at least 10 mm Hg within three minutes of standing. The condition, which may be symptomatic or asymptomatic, is encountered commonly in family medicine. In healthy persons, muscle contraction increases venous return of blood to the heart through one-way valves that prevent blood from pooling in dependent parts of the body. The autonomic nervous system responds to changes in position by constricting veins and arteries and increasing heart rate and cardiac contractility. When these mechanisms are faulty or if the patient is hypovolemic, orthostatic hypotension may occur. In persons with orthostatic hypotension, gravitational opposition to venous return causes a decrease in blood pressure and threatens cerebral ischemia. Several potential causes of orthostatic hypotension include medications; non-neurogenic causes such as impaired venous return, hypovolemia, and cardiac insufficiency; and neurogenic causes such as multisystem atrophy and diabetic neuropathy. Treatment generally is aimed at the underlying cause, and a variety of pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic treatments may relieve symptoms.
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