Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries. When the doctor measures your blood pressure, the results are given in two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, is the pressure caused by your heart contracting and pushing out blood. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when your heart relaxes and fills with blood. Your blood pressure reading is usually given as the systolic blood pressure number over the diastolic blood pressure number, such as 138/72. Normal blood pressure for adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. This is stated as 120/80.
In November, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new guidelines that change how high blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed. Previously, it wasn’t until an adult’s blood pressure reached 140 mmHg or higher systolic (the top, or first, number) or 90 mmHg diastolic (the bottom, or second, number) or higher that high blood pressure was diagnosed. According to the new parameters, high blood pressure should be treated at 130/80 rather than 140/90, as that is the point when our risk for heart attack, stroke, and other consequences for hypertension almost doubles.
Our free blood pressure chart and blood pressure log allow you to track your blood pressure, aiding you in being aware of and gaining control over your blood pressure and health. Since normal blood pressure levels can change with age, weight, height and many other factors, you should consult your doctor or caregiver to determine your appropriate target blood pressure, which can be entered into the blood pressure log. The blood pressure charts below are a quick reference for low, normal and high blood pressures.
Hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure, is known as "the silent killer." More than 80 million Americans (33%) have high blood pressure, and as many as 16 million of them do not even know they have the condition. If left untreated, high blood pressure greatly increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Hypertension is projected to increase about 8 percent between 2013 and 2030.
Holter monitor recordings are used to diagnose intermittent episodes of abnormal heart rhythms. If abnormal rhythms occur intermittently, a standard EKG performed at the time of a visit to the doctor's office may not show the abnormal rhythm. A Holter monitor is a continuous recording of the heart's rhythm for 24 hours that often is used diagnose intermittent episodes of bradycardia or tachycardia (aslow or fast heart rate).
It’s important to determine whether your low blood pressure is “a primary problem or secondary problem,” notes Lawrence. A primary problem means that the body’s reflexes are not working as they should. Secondary causes mean that the low blood pressure is a result of things like dehydration or the effects of certain medications. “Some anti-hypertensive [medications] are more likely to cause hypotension than others, and a lot of it is dose-dependent,” says Lawrence. “In most people, there will be some easily identifiable secondary cause, or some easy solution to what may even be a chronic problem that has no secondary cause, and that’s why it’s important to see your doctor, so they can make an appropriate assessment.”
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.
The guidelines also redefined the various categories of hypertension. It eliminated the category of prehypertension, which had been defined as systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure (the lower number in a reading) of 80 to 89 mm Hg. Instead, people with those readings are now categorized as having either elevated pressure (120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic) or Stage 1 hypertension (130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic).
Blood pressure rises with aging and the risk of becoming hypertensive in later life is considerable. Several environmental factors influence blood pressure. High salt intake raises the blood pressure in salt sensitive individuals; lack of exercise, obesity, and depression can play a role in individual cases. The possible roles of other factors such as caffeine consumption, and vitamin D deficiency are less clear. Insulin resistance, which is common in obesity and is a component of syndrome X (or the metabolic syndrome), is also thought to contribute to hypertension. One review suggests that sugar may play an important role in hypertension and salt is just an innocent bystander.
Stress leads to temporary elevations of blood pressure, but there is no proof that stress causes ongoing high blood pressure. Stress may have an indirect effect on blood pressure since it can influence other risk factors for heart disease. People who are under stress tend to engage more in unhealthy habits like poor nutrition, alcohol use, and smoking, all of which can play a role in the development of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Remember that registered users of My HealtheVet can track their blood pressure as part of their Personal Health Record. When you are logged in, the Track Health "Vitals and Readings" section lets you enter your own systolic and diastolic numbers. You can also print out your data as part of your Blue Button report using "Vitals and Readings, Self Reported."
High blood pressure is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels, or arteries, at higher than normal pressures. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is when this force against the artery walls is too high. Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure if you have consistently high blood pressure readings.
With age, comes an increased risk for systolic hypertension which can be aggravated by severe atherosclerosis. According to one study, the diuretic chlorthalidone (Hygroton) had significant benefit in elderly patients with systolic hypertension. Along with a diuretic, some calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers may also be good choices. However, beta blockers may not be as effective for hypertension in those over 60; though they may be good choices if co-existing heart disease is present. It also may be preferable in elderly patients to give two high blood pressure medications at a low dose versus one at a higher dose.
If you have high blood pressure, it is important to get routine medical care and to follow your prescribed treatment plan, which will include heart-healthy lifestyle changes and possibly medicines. Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can prevent high blood pressure, reduce elevated blood pressure, help control existing high blood pressure, and prevent complications, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, vascular dementia, or chronic kidney disease.
Physical examination may include listening to the heart and lungs, feeling for pulse in the wrist and ankles, and feeling and listening to the abdomen looking for signs of an enlarged aorta. The examiner may also listen in the neck for carotid bruits (sounds made by a narrowed artery in the neck) and in the abdomen for bruits made by an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
A single lower-than-normal reading is not cause for alarm, unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience any dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.
Low blood pressure readings in healthy people without symptoms or organ damage need no treatment. A doctor should evalute all patients with symptoms that are possibly due to low blood pressure. Patients who have had a major drop in blood pressure from their usual levels even without the development of symptoms also should be evaluated. The doctor needs to identify the cause of the low blood pressure; remedies will depend on the cause. For example, if a medication is causing the low blood pressure, the dose of medication may have to be reduced or the medication stopped. Do not adjust medication dose on your own, and do not stop taking any medication without first consulting your doctor.
You begin by lying flat on a table. Straps are put around your body to hold you in place. After lying flat for awhile, the table is tilted to raise your body and head — simulating a change in position from lying down to standing up. During this test, your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored to evaluate your body's cardiovascular response to the change in position.
Angiotensin receptor blockers prevent the actions of angiotensin II on the arteries. This means the arteries stay more open and blood pressure is lowered. ARBs can take a few weeks to work. Side effects can include dizziness, muscle cramps, insomnia, and elevated potassium levels. As with ACE inhibitors, women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should not take ARBs.
In normal blood pressure for elderly & adults over 50, increased systolic blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Systolic blood pressure tends to increase steadily over time due to stiff arteries, a build-up of plaque, and a higher rate of cardiac and vascular disease. This means older adults need to be even more vigilant about monitoring their blood pressure.
It's tough to get a reading on your average blood pressure if you only measure it at the doctor's office. Buy a home monitoring kit at your local pharmacy. Take two readings a day, morning and night, for a few days. Repeat these steps a few times a year, and share the results with your doctor. Better understanding of your blood pressure is the first step to preventing heart disease and stroke.
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. 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.
Postural hypotension can be treated with changes in diet such as increasing water and salt intake,* increasing intake of caffeinated beverages (because caffeine constricts blood vessels), using compression stockings to compress the leg veins and reduce the pooling of blood in the leg veins, and in some patients, the use of a medication called midodrine (ProAmatine). The problem with midodrine is that while it increases blood pressure in the upright position, the supine blood pressure may become too high, thus increasing the risk of strokes. Mayo Clinic researchers found that a medication used to treat muscle weakness in myasthenia gravis called pyridostigmine (Mestinon) increases upright blood pressure but not supine blood pressure. Pyridostigmine, an anticholinesterase medication, works on the autonomic nervous system, especially when a person is standing up. Side effects include minor abdominal cramping or increased frequency of bowel movements.
An exception to this is those with very high blood pressure readings especially when there is poor organ function. Initial assessment of the hypertensive people should include a complete history and physical examination. With the availability of 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitors and home blood pressure machines, the importance of not wrongly diagnosing those who have white coat hypertension has led to a change in protocols. In the United Kingdom, current best practice is to follow up a single raised clinic reading with ambulatory measurement, or less ideally with home blood pressure monitoring over the course of 7 days. The United States Preventive Services Task Force also recommends getting measurements outside of the healthcare environment. Pseudohypertension in the elderly or noncompressibility artery syndrome may also require consideration. This condition is believed to be due to calcification of the arteries resulting in abnormally high blood pressure readings with a blood pressure cuff while intra arterial measurements of blood pressure are normal. Orthostatic hypertension is when blood pressure increases upon standing.
Dietary changes: The health care provider might recommend a diet that includes more vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables), fruits, low-fat dairy products, and fiber-rich foods, and fewer carbohydrates, fats, processed foods, and sugary drinks. He or she also might recommend preparing low-sodium dishes and not adding salt to foods. Watch out for foods with lots of hidden salt (like bread, sandwiches, pizza, and many restaurant and fast-food options).
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.
^ Ostchega Y, Dillon CF, Hughes JP, Carroll M, Yoon S (July 2007). "Trends in hypertension prevalence, awareness, treatment, and control in older U.S. adults: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1988 to 2004". Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 55 (7): 1056–65. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01215.x. PMID 17608879.
Everyone age 3 or older should have their blood pressure checked by a healthcare provider at least once a year. Your doctor will use a blood pressure test to see if you have consistently high blood pressure readings. Even small increases in systolic blood pressure can weaken and damage your blood vessels. Your doctor will recommend heart-healthy lifestyle changes to help control your blood pressure and prevent you from developing high blood pressure.
If your systolic and diastolic blood pressure are in two different categories, doctors consider the number that is in the higher category. For example, if your blood pressure is 135/91, your systolic blood pressure is in the prehypertensive range and your diastolic blood pressure is in the range of Stage 1 hypertension. Your measurement or 135/91 would place you in the category of Stage 1 hypertension.