By John Schappi
For a while, I've become dizzy—close to fainting—after spending time outside in midday heat. After those episodes, I've noticed big dips in my blood pressure, often below 100 systolic.
At first I thought it was "orthostatic hypotension" (OT)—the BP drops people sometimes experience when they change from sitting to standing positions. While positional changes didn't cause my dizziness and low BP, I still figured my problem was connected to OT, since that condition typically affects the elderly and people with Parkinson's.
Neither my internist nor my blood pressure specialist bought my OT diagnosis. They suggested some remedies—wearing an abdominal binder that elevates blood pressure among them (I bought the "corset" but haven't used it).
An online search produced other suggestions such as using salted pretzels to elevate blood pressure. These lists of suggestions no doubt included "drink more fluids" somewhere. But that recommendation appears so often in general healthcare lists, I gave it little notice.
When I'd be out and about on warm days during my Norway cruise, I started to carry salt packets—the kind fast food joints offer. I'd pop the contents into my mouth around 11am on warm tour days, and the simple remedy seemed to work for me. No sinking spells.
Last week, I had my first physical exam with my new internist. As we talked, my mouth got so dry I could barely speak. I asked for a glass of water. I drank it, but she didn't seem especially curious about an elderly man's sudden and urgent need for hydration.
Several days later, I had "dry mouth" again. Most Google links I checked naturally mentioned dehydration. Some also mentioned erratic blood pressure—high and low—as dehydration side effects. Others mentioned fatigue—a symptom that regularly accompanied my "sinking spells."
I kept searching for info. When I Googled "drinks to remedy dehydration," I found recommendations for low calorie Gatorade and Powerade. Why not give it a try? I've been mixing those products with quinine water (my idea) and drinking a large mug of the concoction about five times a day.
The power drinks are better than plain tap water, because they provide minerals to replace electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium) lost from dehydration. They also increase blood sugar (glucose), so the drinks aren't recommended for people with glucose intolerance. My recent blood tests showed normal glucose levels, so that wasn't a concern for me.
The results of upping fluid intake
It's been less than a week since I started drinking my mixture. But so far, so very good.
For several years—ever since increased doses of my over-the-counter supplement, 5-HTP, seemed to cause sharp blood pressure spikes—I’ve closely monitored my pressure at home. As I began this new hydration regimen, I wanted to know what effect it might have on my blood pressure.
Since I started drinking heavily (non-alcoholic fluids!), nearly all my readings have been in the normal range. Three systolic readings exceeded 160, but those coincided with "off" periods—when the last Parkinson's pill was wearing off and the new one hadn't yet kicked in. No systolic reading has fallen below 110.
More importantly, since my hydration project started, I haven't experienced any afternoon sinking spells.
A surprise bonus: more fluids, less incontinence
The second day on the new routine I noticed something surprising—I wasn't urinating as much, and wasn't leaking or dribbling. I wasn't rushing for the bathroom and I also wasn't failing to make it on time.
My incontinence dates from my 1995 prostatectomy. At first, it wasn't much of a problem. But when I entered my 80s—and developed Parkinson's—it became a bigger, more unpleasant, issue.
My new hydration project has had more of a positive effect on my incontinence than on my blood pressure.
My experience was reconfirmed by a quick Googled search, which showed that drinking more fluids is a standard recommendation for dealing with incontinence...even though that correlation hardly seems "intuitive."
I'm just a week on this promising new path. I'll keep monitoring my progress (or lack thereof) and report back.