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.
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).
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, Cushman WC, Green LA, Izzo Jr. JL, Jones DW, Materson BJ, Oparil S, Wright Jr. JT, Roccella EJ, et al. (December 2003). "Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure". Hypertension. Joint National Committee On Prevention. 42 (6): 1206–52. doi:10.1161/01.HYP.0000107251.49515.c2. PMID 14656957. Archived from the original on 20 May 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular. 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. 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. Subsequently, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and renin inhibitors were developed as antihypertensive agents.
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Quitting smoking. Visit Smoking and Your Heart and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Your Guide to a Healthy Heart [PDF – 2MB]. Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking. For free help and support to quit smoking, you can call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).
Lifestyle changes and medications can lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of health complications. Lifestyle changes include weight loss, physical exercise, decreased salt intake, reducing alcohol intake, and a healthy diet. If lifestyle changes are not sufficient then blood pressure medications are used. Up to three medications can control blood pressure in 90% of people. The treatment of moderately high arterial blood pressure (defined as >160/100 mmHg) with medications is associated with an improved life expectancy. The effect of treatment of blood pressure between 130/80 mmHg and 160/100 mmHg is less clear, with some reviews finding benefit and others finding unclear benefit. High blood pressure affects between 16 and 37% of the population globally. In 2010 hypertension was believed to have been a factor in 18% of all deaths (9.4 million globally).
Blood pressure monitors for use at home can be bought at drug stores, department stores, and other places. Again, these monitors may not always give you a correct reading. You should always compare your machine’s reading with a reading from your doctor’s machine to make sure they are the same. Remember that any measurement above normal should prompt a visit to the doctor, who can then talk with you about the best course of action.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; pii: S0735-1097(17)41519-1. PMID: 29146535 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146535.
A number of medications contribute to heart disease, including corticosteroids, oral contraceptives, some decongestants, medications that contain caffeine, and many others. In general, it is best to check the label to see if hypertension is one of the side effects of any medications you take, especially if you already have hypertension or if you are at increased risk for it.
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.
"The implications and potential benefits of such healthier lifestyles could be great, particularly since about 22% of the adult population falls into the prehypertensive category," says Chobanian, who is also dean of the Boston University School of Medicine. "In fact, the blood pressure effects of weight reduction or adoption of the DASH eating plan can be comparable to those achieved with any single blood pressure medication."
Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). The NHLBI supports the HCHS/SOL, which is the most comprehensive long-term study of health and disease in Hispanics and Latinos living in the United States. Study data will pave the way for future research into possible causes of health disparities among Hispanic and Latino communities. Visit Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos for more information.
It has been shown that meditation and other relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure. Yoga, tai chi, and breathing exercises can also help reduce blood pressure. It's best when these are combined with changes in diet and exercise. Tell your doctor if you are taking any herbal remedies, since some of these preparations can actually raise blood pressure or interact with your blood pressure medications. The following are supplements that may lower blood pressure:
Beta-blockers cause the heart to slow down and so some of their side effects can be traced to that mechanism of action. Dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and fainting are possible. Beta-blockers also affect the respiratory system, so other side effects include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and chest pain. Beta-blockers should not be withdrawn suddenly, as that could result in a heart attack or sudden death.
Vasovagal syncope can be treated with several types of drugs such as beta blockers, for example, propanolol (Inderal, Inderal LA) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). Fludrocortisone (Florinef) (a drug that prevents dehydration by causing the kidney(s) to retain water) also may be used. A pacemaker can also be helpful when a patient fails drug therapy.