According to guidelines set by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. If you don’t have high blood pressure yourself, chances are you know someone who does. Being aware of high blood pressure and hypertension is critical. When left undiagnosed, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or other dangerous health conditions. The first step towards preventing or mitigating the risks of high blood pressure is recognizing the issue. While it is often called the “silent killer,” there are some common signs and symptoms of high blood pressure you can watch out for.
What Is Blood Pressure & How Is It Measured?
Blood pressure is the pressure or force of the blood as it moves through your circulatory system. It is most commonly measured using a tool called a sphygmomanometer. You have probably used one of these instruments before even if you don’t recognize the name. It uses an inflatable arm cuff that puts pressure on the artery to measure the systolic and diastolic pressure on your blood vessels.
To get these readings, blood pressure monitors use a gauge with a measurement unit called millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Your blood pressure is read using two standard numbers, systolic and diastolic. A typical blood pressure reading may look something like 120/80 mmHg, which is read aloud as 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury. Most people will also drop the last part and only say the numbers — 120 over 80.
What Is Systolic Blood Pressure?
The systolic number appears on top of the blood pressure reading and is used to measure the pressure in your blood vessels each time your heart beats.
What Is Diastolic Blood Pressure?
The diastolic number appears at the bottom of the blood pressure reading and measures the pressure in the blood vessels in between heartbeats when the heart is at rest.
Blood Pressure Ranges
After you measure your blood pressure, you will probably want to know if it's healthy or not. Depending on the numbers, your levels may be considered normal, elevated, or high. Before coming to a conclusion based off of a single test, you should know several factors can skew your results. Your emotional state, your morning coffee, and even the temperature of the room all can alter the results. Your health care provider can help minimize these interruptions for a more precise reading.
Here are the accepted ranges for blood pressure and what they mean.
- Normal: Systolic less than 120 and diastolic less than 80
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
- Stage 1 Hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- Stage 2 Hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 or diastolic over 120
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is when your blood circulates with elevated force. The increase in pressure puts stress on your blood vessels, heart, and arteries. This strain is what leads to heart disease and other detrimental side effects on vital organs like your brain and kidneys. Blood pressure is something that ebbs and flows. It will rise and fall depending on many different internal and external forces.
What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension is a medical designation for those with consistently high blood pressure. Usually, this diagnosis won't occur until a person has consistently high blood pressure readings over a period of weeks or months. One occurrence of high blood pressure, while not ideal, does not always mean you have hypertension.
In casual conversation, high blood pressure and hypertension often are used interchangeably. Even your doctor may say you have high blood pressure instead of the more technical distinction of hypertension. You should be aware of the differences. Hypertension is an ever-present issue that will require significant changes to your lifestyle and diet.
There are several types of hypertension. Here are the most common varieties.
Around 95 percent of those with hypertension have this type. People are diagnosed with essential hypertension after having three or more readings of high blood pressure. The key characteristic of essential hypertension is that there is no identifiable cause for the high blood pressure.
Around 5 percent of those diagnosed with hypertension have secondary hypertension. The main difference between this and essential hypertension is that secondary has one or more identifiable causes. In most cases, this underlying cause can be corrected, putting an end to the high blood pressure. In 85 percent of cases involving children and hypertension, secondary hypertension is the diagnosis.
Isolated Systolic Hypertension (ISH)
In most cases of hypertension, the systolic and diastolic numbers rise together. However, there are occasions where just one will be abnormal. Anytime the systolic number, which appears on the top, is above 140 and the diastolic is under 90 it is considered isolated systolic hypertension (ISH). After 65, people are more likely to develop ISH and it is a red flag for many heart-related issues.
Isolated Diastolic Hypertension (IDH)
Isolated diastolic hypertension (IDH) is similar to isolated systolic hypertension except in reverse. It is where your systolic number remains in the normal range, and your diastolic numbers are 90 or higher. This kind of hypertension is far less common than any other type. Those with IDH are far more likely to have their systolic numbers rise over time.
Malignant hypertension is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. It only occurs in about 1 percent of those with hypertension. It happens when there is a sharp rise in blood pressure in a very short period. Malignant hypertension can damage your organs and should be treated immediately by a health care professional. Signs and symptoms include chest pain, impaired vision, and numbness in the legs or arms.
Resistant hypertension is not receptive to antihypertensive medications. This is the case for about 30 percent of people with hypertension. In these cases, the cause can be genetic or related to other health issues like weight, diabetes, or kidney disease.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure depends on many different factors. Often, high blood pressure develops slowly over time. Pinpointing the exact causes can be difficult or impossible. Some things cause temporary increases in blood pressure. These include:
- Alcohol, usually three drinks or more
- Certain prescription drugs, including birth control pills
- Illegal drugs like cocaine & amphetamine
- Toxins like BPA
Around 5 percent of people with high blood pressure have developed it as the result of an underlying issue. These risk factors include:
- Adrenal gland issues
- Toxic metal poisoning
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Thyroid disorders
What Are the Common Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure?
Several risk factors increase your chances of developing high blood pressure. Most are avoidable, while others may be out of your control. Here are the most common reasons someone may develop high blood pressure.
Getting older increases your likelihood of having high blood pressure. Men over 45 and women over 65 are at higher risk.
Issues with high blood pressure usually run in the family. Check your family history to see if you may be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure yourself.
Your weight is a huge factor in determining your risk of high blood pressure. As your weight increases, so does the stress and strain on your blood and heart.
Increasing your physical activity is always beneficial to your health. You should strive for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day. Less than that and you may be increasing your chances of becoming overweight and developing high blood pressure.
Tobacco use can cause temporary increases in blood pressure, and long-term tobacco use also affects your heart and arteries — increasing your risks of developing hypertension.
Eating processed or fast food will increase your sodium intake causing your blood pressure to spike. When your diet lacks fresh, whole foods you can become deficient in essential nutrients like vitamin D and K — both of which help regulate healthy blood pressure.
What Are the Signs of High Blood Pressure?
If you ever experience noticeable signs of high blood pressure, you may be having a severe health crisis. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
- Blood in your urine
- Blurred or obstructed vision
- Buzzing noise in your ear
- Confusion & disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Heavy nosebleeds
- Irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia
- Pain in your chest
- Pounding feeling in your chest, neck, or ears
- Severe headaches
What Are the Consequences of High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is a good indicator of your overall wellness. As your blood pressure rises, so does your risk of other health complications. Usually, the hardest-hit area of the body is the heart. Here are some of the most common results of long-term high blood pressure or hypertension.
- Damaged arteries
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
- Vision loss
How to Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home
You can monitor your blood pressure from your home. However, there are many factors which can alter your results. The American Heart Association suggests keeping a blood pressure journal to provide a complete picture of your results over time. For the monitor, they recommend using an automatic, cuff-style reader that goes over your upper arm.
For best results, keep the following tips in mind.
Sit as still as possible while you take your blood pressure. Don’t talk, eat, or drink. It is best to avoid exercise or strenuous activity for at least 30 minutes prior.
Keep Your Back Straight
How you sit can affect your results. Sit with your back straight. Usually, a sturdy dining chair works best. Avoid sofas and plush chairs when taking your blood pressure.
Follow the Directions Exactly
Your specific blood pressure monitor will come with directions. Follow them as exact as possible for the most accurate results.
Stick to a Routine
If you plan to keep a diary of your blood pressure readings, then it is best to test at the same time each day. Sticking to a schedule will give you a better idea of how your blood pressure changes over time under similar conditions. Don’t be afraid to test multiple times in one sitting to help ensure accurate readings.
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally
If you are concerned about your blood pressure, here are three natural approaches that have helped others.
Change Your Diet
Managing your blood pressure with a healthy, plant-based diet could help. Here are some of the most popular diet options for those looking to improve or regulate their blood pressure.
The DASH Diet
Designed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was created to help those with hypertension. It restricts the amount of sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day and encourages the consumption of foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Sugar is limited too, and fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the main staples of the diet. Proponents claim that over time people can lower their blood pressure by 14 points following the DASH diet.
The Mediterranean Diet
This diet focuses on consuming healthy fats and eating less red meat. It is high in monounsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. Typically those who adhere to the Mediterranean diet experience fewer health complications with their heart and blood pressure. Increasing nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables may be one reason why. Additionally, red wine is common in the diet and rich in resveratrol, which may contribute to normal blood pressure. (However, red wine is not the only source of resveratrol.)
The Vegetarian Diet
No matter which diet you choose to follow, tracking your sodium intake each day is a good idea. It is recommended to stay under 2,400 mg a day, but that will take more than skipping the tabletop salt shaker. You will need to check nutrition labels to ensure what you are eating doesn’t contain hidden sodium. Avoid processed foods and eat more fruits and vegetables. Raw, plant-based foods are generally low in salt and high in valuable nutrients.
Take the Right Supplements
Blood pressure can be a complicated mix of various mechanisms inside your body working together harmoniously. Each one of these processes requires a mix of nutrients to function correctly. When you are not getting these nutrients from your diet, then supplements are your next best option. The right blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals is a healthy way to encourage normal blood pressure.
Here are the most popular supplements.
Get Out & Move!
Regular exercise is an excellent way to keep your blood pressure in check. Exercising and staying active on a daily basis is essential for normal blood pressure and good health all around. Staying mentally active and meditating is a great way to manage stress. Altogether, regular physical and mental activity is an excellent way to prevent or improve the things that influence your blood pressure the most.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.