If your blood pressure readings are consistently high, you and your doctor will probably discuss treatment strategies. Treatment for high blood pressure often begins with lifestyle changes such as a weight loss and exercise program as well as a low sodium diet. In fact, the AHA recommends adopting these strategies as a means of preventing the development of high blood pressure and heart disease. If these strategies are not successful in lowering your blood pressure, medications may be recommended.
Primary (or essential) hypertension is when the cause is unknown. The majority of hypertension cases are primary. When there is an underlying problem such as kidney disease or hormonal disorders that can cause hypertension, it is called secondary hypertension. When it is possible to correct the underlying cause, high blood pressure usually improves and may even return to normal.
Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. The easiest way to do this is to use a digital blood pressure monitor. You can get a monitor from your local drug store, hospital, clinic or online. Your doctor can help you find a monitor that is right for you and show you how to use it. Many pharmacies and grocery stores also have in-store monitors that you can use for free.
Blood pressure is expressed by two measurements, the systolic and diastolic pressures, which are the maximum and minimum pressures, respectively. For most adults, normal blood pressure at rest is within the range of 100–130 millimeters mercury (mmHg) systolic and 60–80 mmHg diastolic. For most adults, high blood pressure is present if the resting blood pressure is persistently at or above 130/80 or 140/90 mmHg. Different numbers apply to children. Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over a 24-hour period appears more accurate than office-based blood pressure measurement.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
Medicines are available if these changes do not help control your blood pressure within 3 to 6 months. Diuretics help rid your body of water and sodium. ACE inhibitors block the enzyme that raises your blood pressure. Other types of medicines— beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and other vasodilators—work in different ways, but their overall effect is to help relax and widen your blood vessels and reduce the pressure inside the vessel. [See also the free government publication “Medicines to Help You: High Blood Pressure” (PDF) from the US Food and Drug Administration.]
Certain medications: A number of drugs can cause low blood pressure, including diuretics and other drugs that treat hypertension; heart medications such as beta blockers; drugs for Parkinson’s disease; tricyclic antidepressants; erectile dysfunction drugs, particularly in combination with nitroglycerine; narcotics and alcohol. Other prescription and over-the-counter drugs may cause low blood pressure when taken in combination with high blood pressure medications.
Recurrent headaches: Headaches are fairly common among people with or without hypertension. Some people with hypertension notice changes or worsening of headaches when medications are skipped or when the blood pressure becomes higher than usual. Headaches associated with hypertension can be mild, moderate, or severe and can be of a throbbing nature.
High blood pressure is classified as either primary (essential) high blood pressure or secondary high blood pressure. About 90–95% of cases are primary, defined as high blood pressure due to nonspecific lifestyle and genetic factors. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk include excess salt in the diet, excess body weight, smoking, and alcohol use. The remaining 5–10% of cases are categorized as secondary high blood pressure, defined as high blood pressure due to an identifiable cause, such as chronic kidney disease, narrowing of the kidney arteries, an endocrine disorder, or the use of birth control pills.
Before measuring your blood pressure, do not smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before the test. Rest for at least five minutes before the measurements and sit still with your back straight and supported. Feet should be flat on the floor and not crossed. Your arm should also be supported on a flat surface like a table with the upper arm at heart level.
Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats, pumping the blood. This is called systolic pressure. When your heart is at rest, between beats, your blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure reading uses these two numbers. Usually they're written one above or before the other, such as 120/80. If your blood pressure reading is 90/60 or lower, you have low blood pressure.