A nurse takes your blood pressure at your annual physical. The numbers are recorded and the checkup continues. But do you know where on the blood pressure chart your levels are? Are they healthy? Too low? Too high, meaning you have hypertension? If you have high blood pressure or are heading in that direction, you should know that hypertension is among the primary enlarged heart causes, and a major risk factor for heart failure.
Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.
The brain requires unobstructed blood flow to nourish its many functions. Very high, sustained blood pressure will eventually cause blood vessels to weaken. Over time these weaken vessels can break, and blood will leak into the brain. The area of the brain that is being fed by these broken vessels start to die, and this will cause a stroke. Additionally, if a blot clot blocks a narrowed artery, blood ceases to flow and a stroke will occur.
The kidney can respond to changes in blood pressure by increasing or decreasing the amount of urine that is produced. Urine is primarily water that is removed from the blood. When the kidney makes more urine, the amount (volume) of blood that fills the arteries and veins decreases, and this lowers blood pressure. If the kidneys make less urine, the amount of blood that fills the arteries and veins increases and this increases blood pressure. Compared with the other mechanisms for adjusting blood pressure, changes in the production of urine affect blood pressure slowly over hours and days. (The other mechanisms are effective in seconds.)
A slow heart rate (bradycardia) can decrease the amount of blood pumped by the heart. The resting heart rate for a healthy adult is between 60 and 100 beats/minute. Bradycardia (resting heart rates slower than 60 beats/minute) does not always cause low blood pressure. In fact, some highly trained athletes can have resting heart rates in the 40s and 50s (beats per minute) without any symptoms. The slow heart rates are offset by more forceful contractions of the heart that pump more blood than in non-athletes. However, in many patients bradycardia can lead to low blood pressure, lightheadedness, dizziness, and even fainting.
Electrolytes are substances that become ions in solution and acquire the capacity to conduct electricity. The balance of the electrolytes in our bodies is essential for normal function of our cells and our organs. Common electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, and bicarbonate. The functions and normal range values for these electrolytes are important, and if an electrolyte is at an extreme low or high, it can be fatal.
Your blood pressure is considered high when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.
Strong Heart Study. Since 1988, the NHLBI has supported the Strong Heart Study (SHS), the largest epidemiologic study of American Indians ever conducted. The SHS aims to estimate the impact of heart and blood vessel diseases and to assess how common and significant standard risk factors are in this community. Thirteen tribes and communities in four states participate in the study. Visit Strong Heart Study for more information.

Rates of high blood pressure in children and adolescents have increased in the last 20 years in the United States.[147] Childhood hypertension, particularly in pre-adolescents, is more often secondary to an underlying disorder than in adults. Kidney disease is the most common secondary cause of hypertension in children and adolescents. Nevertheless, primary or essential hypertension accounts for most cases.[148]
Pulse pressure (the difference between systolic and diastolic blood pressure) is frequently increased in older people with hypertension. This can mean that systolic pressure is abnormally high, but diastolic pressure may be normal or low a condition termed isolated systolic hypertension.[59] The high pulse pressure in elderly people with hypertension or isolated systolic hypertension is explained by increased arterial stiffness, which typically accompanies aging and may be exacerbated by high blood pressure.[60]
^ Roerecke, Michael; Tobe, Sheldon W.; Kaczorowski, Janusz; Bacon, Simon L.; Vafaei, Afshin; Hasan, Omer S. M.; Krishnan, Rohin J.; Raifu, Amidu O.; Rehm, Jürgen (27 June 2018). "Sex‐Specific Associations Between Alcohol Consumption and Incidence of Hypertension: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Cohort Studies". Journal of the American Heart Association. 7 (13): e008202. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.008202.

Changes in blood vessel structure. Blood vessels have layers of the proteins elastin and collagen. Elastin is what makes blood vessels flexible. Collagen, which is stiffer, gives vessels structure. With age, elastin breaks down. Even the elastin that remains becomes less elastic. Meanwhile, collagen deposits in the vessels increase. As a result, blood vessels grow thicker and bend less easily over time. These changes may lead to higher systolic blood pressure.

When a blood pressure reading is taken, the higher number represents the systolic pressure and the lower number represents the diastolic pressure. For example: 120/80 (120 over 80) in an adult means that the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80. As kids grow, their blood pressure increases from a systolic pressure of about 70–90 (as babies) to adult values (when they're teens).
Measuring blood pressure in both the lying (supine) and standing positions usually is the first step in diagnosing low blood pressure. In patients with symptomatic low blood pressure, there often is a marked drop in blood pressure upon standing, and patients may even develop orthostatic symptoms. The heart rate often increases. The goal is to identify the cause of the low blood pressure. Sometimes the causes are readily apparent (such as loss of blood due to trauma, or sudden shock after receiving X-ray dyes containing iodine). At other times, the cause may be identified by testing:
1. Concentrate on foods that lower blood pressure. Sugary, processed foods contain salt, sugar, damaged fats, and food sensitivities like gluten that contribute to or exacerbate high blood pressure. Shifting to a whole, unprocessed foods diet can dramatically impact your blood pressure. Many whole, unprocessed foods are rich in potassium, a mineral that supports healthy blood pressure. Some research shows that too much sodium and low amounts of potassium – can contribute to high blood pressure. Research shows people with high blood pressure can benefit from increased potassium in foods including avocado, spinach, wild-caught salmon, and sweet potatoes.
Postural hypotension occurs most frequently in people who are taking drugs to control high blood pressure (hypertension). It can also be related to pregnancy, strong emotions, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), or diabetes. The elderly are particularly affected, especially those who have high blood pressure or autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.

Normal blood pressure can differ substantially between breeds but hypertension in dogs is often diagnosed if systolic blood pressure is above 160 mm Hg particularly if this is associated with target organ damage.[170] Inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system and calcium channel blockers are often used to treat hypertension in dogs, although other drugs may be indicated for specific conditions causing high blood pressure.[170]
Medications such as calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, and digoxin (Lanoxin) can slow the rate at which the heart contracts. Some elderly people are extremely sensitive to these medications since they are more likely to have diseased hearts and electrical conduction tissues. In some individuals, the heart rate can become dangerously slow even with small doses of these medications.

For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people and can lead to serious health problems (stroke, heart disease, eye problems, and kidney failure) in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness upon standing too fast, and falls. Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure (130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number) but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication. If your doctor determines that your systolic pressure is above a normal level for your age, ask how you can lower it.

John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.


4. Find an exercise that works for you (and do it). Moving more can help reverse high blood pressure. One meta-analysis of 65 studies found regular exercise provides both an acute and longer-term reduction in blood pressure. Whether you’re an exercise novice or a conditioned athlete, these four strategies can help you create an effective workout plan to optimize health.
Hypertension with certain specific additional signs and symptoms may suggest secondary hypertension, i.e. hypertension due to an identifiable cause. For example, Cushing's syndrome frequently causes truncal obesity, glucose intolerance, moon face, a hump of fat behind the neck/shoulder (referred to as a buffalo hump), and purple abdominal stretch marks.[23] Hyperthyroidism frequently causes weight loss with increased appetite, fast heart rate, bulging eyes, and tremor. Renal artery stenosis (RAS) may be associated with a localized abdominal bruit to the left or right of the midline (unilateral RAS), or in both locations (bilateral RAS). Coarctation of the aorta frequently causes a decreased blood pressure in the lower extremities relative to the arms, or delayed or absent femoral arterial pulses. Pheochromocytoma may cause abrupt ("paroxysmal") episodes of hypertension accompanied by headache, palpitations, pale appearance, and excessive sweating.[23]

The World Health Organization has identified hypertension, or high blood pressure, as the leading cause of cardiovascular mortality.[162] The World Hypertension League (WHL), an umbrella organization of 85 national hypertension societies and leagues, recognized that more than 50% of the hypertensive population worldwide are unaware of their condition.[162] To address this problem, the WHL initiated a global awareness campaign on hypertension in 2005 and dedicated May 17 of each year as World Hypertension Day (WHD). Over the past three years, more national societies have been engaging in WHD and have been innovative in their activities to get the message to the public. In 2007, there was record participation from 47 member countries of the WHL. During the week of WHD, all these countries – in partnership with their local governments, professional societies, nongovernmental organizations and private industries – promoted hypertension awareness among the public through several media and public rallies. Using mass media such as Internet and television, the message reached more than 250 million people. As the momentum picks up year after year, the WHL is confident that almost all the estimated 1.5 billion people affected by elevated blood pressure can be reached.[163]


An elevated blood pressure reading means that your blood pressure falls just above the normal level, corresponding to a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 or a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. The new guidelines eliminate the previous category of prehypertension. About one-fourth of Americans have elevated levels and they have two times the risk of heart disease compared with those who have lower blood pressures. Lifestyle changes can help many people with prehypertension lower their blood pressure.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e National High Blood Pressure Education Program Working Group on High Blood Pressure in Children and Adolescents (August 2004). "The fourth report on the diagnosis, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure in children and adolescents". Pediatrics. 114 (2 Suppl 4th Report): 555–76. doi:10.1542/peds.114.2.S2.555. PMID 15286277.
Blood pressure (BP) recordings consist of two numbers. The top one is the systolic blood pressure and relates to the contraction of the left side of the heart and the peak pressure achieved when it pumps blood round the body. The bottom number is the diastolic recording and is the lowest pressure achieved in the circulation; this relates to the relaxation of the heart. Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), e.g. 120/70 mmHg.
Normal blood pressure can differ substantially between breeds but hypertension in dogs is often diagnosed if systolic blood pressure is above 160 mm Hg particularly if this is associated with target organ damage.[170] Inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system and calcium channel blockers are often used to treat hypertension in dogs, although other drugs may be indicated for specific conditions causing high blood pressure.[170]
Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide.[149] It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease,[150] strokes,[23] peripheral vascular disease,[151] and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism.[11][23] Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.[23] Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.[27] 

The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular.[152] Several other agents were developed after the Second World War, the most popular and reasonably effective of which were tetramethylammonium chloride, hexamethonium, hydralazine, and reserpine (derived from the medicinal plant Rauwolfia serpentina). None of these were well tolerated.[159][160] A major breakthrough was achieved with the discovery of the first well-tolerated orally available agents. The first was chlorothiazide, the first thiazide diuretic and developed from the antibiotic sulfanilamide, which became available in 1958.[152][161] Subsequently, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and renin inhibitors were developed as antihypertensive agents.[158]
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own.[125][126][127] Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.[128]
×