Drinking water could be beneficial to patients with low blood pressure

December 01, 2004

Ordinary tap or bottled water could help people suffering from low blood pressure who faint while standing, claim researchers from Imperial College London and St Mary's Hospital.

According to research published in the latest issue of Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, drinking two glasses of water can raise blood pressure, potentially providing a solution for patients with low blood pressure while standing, caused by autonomic failure. Autonomic failure is where parts of the nervous system, responsible for the control of bodily functions not consciously directed, such as blood pressure, heart rate and sweating, do not function properly.

Professor Christopher Mathias, from Imperial College London and St Mary's Hospital, and the senior author of the research, comments: "This surprising discovery that water can have such an effect on blood pressure could help us to treat both sufferers of autonomic failure, and many people who suffer from low blood pressure generally, especially those who faint, such as with vasovagal syncope."

The researchers looked at 14 patients with autonomic failure, and measured their blood pressure while lying and standing, before, and 15 and 35 minutes after drinking 480ml of distilled water. When asked to stand, before drinking water, this caused a fall in blood pressure.

The 14 patients were divided into two groups, seven of whom had multiple system atrophy (MSA), while the other seven had pure autonomic failure (PAF). MSA is a neurodegenerative disease marked by a combination of symptoms affecting movement, blood pressure, and other body functions. PAF is a disorder affecting only the autonomic nervous system. They both often present in middle to late life.

The patients then drank water causing a significant rise in blood pressure. For the patients with PAF it took five minutes for a significant rise in blood pressure to be recorded, and for patients with MSA it took 13 minutes. In both the fall in blood pressure and symptoms of low blood pressure, was reduced while standing.

Professor Mathias adds: "While autonomic failure itself is generally not life threatening, it can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life. People with low blood pressure caused by autonomic failure are at a greater risk of fainting when standing upright, after food or even after mild exertion. This can affect their life in many ways, stopping them from driving, or in extreme cases, from being able to work. This discovery could be of considerable use in helping these patients to understand why this happens. It may also benefit the many without autonomic failure who faint as a result of low blood pressure."
-end-
The research was supported by a grant from the Sarah Matheson Trust Autonomic Disorders Association.

Imperial College London

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