As blood travels throughout your body, it presses against the walls of your blood vessels, just like water in a hose or air in a tire. This is called blood pressure. When your heart beats (contracts), squeezing blood out and pumping it into your arteries, blood pressure peaks. This is called your systolic pressure. Between heartbeats, when your heart relaxes and blood flows back into it, your blood pressure is lower. This is your diastolic pressure.
Many things can cause your blood pressure to be too low, ranging from normal pregnancy-induced changes to dangerous underlying conditions, like heart problems or hormone disturbances. In some instances, what causes low blood pressure could be a simple case of dehydration brought on by vomiting, intense exercise, or the overuse of diuretics. In fact, even mild dehydration can trigger symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, or other symptoms of low blood pressure.
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).
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.
Exercise also causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, which increases blood flow and decreases peripheral resistance — which, in healthy people, keeps the diastolic blood pressure from rising during activity. In fact, a diastolic blood pressure increasing greater than 10 mmHg during or after exercise represents an unstable form of hypertension, and may be associated with coronary artery disease, notes Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University have uncovered unusual activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the development of essential hypertension. Essential hypertension, which is high blood pressure with no known cause, affects 30% of the global population and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension is rarely accompanied by symptoms, and its identification is usually through screening, or when seeking healthcare for an unrelated problem. Some people with high blood pressure report headaches (particularly at the back of the head and in the morning), as well as lightheadedness, vertigo, tinnitus (buzzing or hissing in the ears), altered vision or fainting episodes. These symptoms, however, might be related to associated anxiety rather than the high blood pressure itself.
After menopause, however, blood pressure increases in women to levels even higher than in men. Hormone replacement therapy in most cases does not significantly reduce blood pressure in postmenopausal women, suggesting that the loss of estrogens may not be the only component involved in the higher blood pressure in women after menopause. In contrast, androgens may decrease only slightly, if at all, in postmenopausal women.
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.
Hypertension results from a complex interaction of genes and environmental factors. Numerous common genetic variants with small effects on blood pressure have been identified as well as some rare genetic variants with large effects on blood pressure. Also, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have identified 35 genetic loci related to blood pressure; 12 of these genetic loci influencing blood pressure were newly found. Sentinel SNP for each new genetic locus identified has shown an association with DNA methylation at multiple nearby CpG sites. These sentinel SNP are located within genes related to vascular smooth muscle and renal function. DNA methylation might affect in some way linking common genetic variation to multiple phenotypes even though mechanisms underlying these associations are not understood. Single variant test performed in this study for the 35 sentinel SNP (known and new) showed that genetic variants singly or in aggregate contribute to risk of clinical phenotypes related to high blood pressure.
Keeping track of your blood pressure is important. Your doctor can help you learn how to check your blood pressure at home. Each time you check your own blood pressure, record your numbers and the date. Send or take the log of your blood pressure readings with you for appointments with your doctor. Return to Screening for reminders on how to prepare for blood pressure testing.
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.
You can also have symptoms of low blood pressure when someone with hypertension comes down from very high pressures. For instance, 120/80 mm Hg may be normal for everyone else, but if your patient lives at 190/100 mm Hg, they are going to feel the difference. For this reason, the objective sign of a pressure must be combined with the subjective symptoms the patient reports.
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. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.
Calcium channel blockers are drugs that reduce the movement of calcium into cells of the heart and vessels. This reduces the strength of heart contractions and relaxes the arteries, allowing them to remain more open, lowering blood pressure. Side effects of calcium channel blockers can include heart palpitations, dizziness, swollen ankles, and constipation. Calcium channel blockers can be taken alone or with other blood pressure medications. They should be taken with food or milk. Because of potential interactions, those taking calcium channel blockers should avoid alcohol and grapefruit juice.
^ Qaseem, A; Wilt, TJ; Rich, R; Humphrey, LL; Frost, J; Forciea, MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians and the Commission on Health of the Public and Science of the American Academy of Family, Physicians. (21 March 2017). "Pharmacologic Treatment of Hypertension in Adults Aged 60 Years or Older to Higher Versus Lower Blood Pressure Targets: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians". Annals of Internal Medicine. 166 (6): 430–437. doi:10.7326/m16-1785. PMID 28135725.
SOURCES: The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 21, 2003. Aram Chobanian, MD, dean, Boston University School of Medicine and chair of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Claude Lenfant, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Edward Roccella, PhD, MPH, coordinator of the National High Blood Pressure Education Program at NHLBI. John Laragh, MD, Cardiovascular Hypertension Center at New York Hospital/Cornell University Medical Center and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Hypertension. WebMD Medical News: "Diuretics Best for High Blood Pressure."
Although a fever technically is any body temperature above the normal of 98.6 F (37 C), in practice, a person is usually not considered to have a significant fever until the temperature is above 100.4 F (38 C). Fever is part of the body's own disease-fighting arsenal; rising body temperatures apparently are capable of killing off many disease-producing organisms.
Hypertension defined as elevated blood pressure over several visits affects 1% to 5% of children and adolescents and is associated with long term risks of ill-health. Blood pressure rises with age in childhood and, in children, hypertension is defined as an average systolic or diastolic blood pressure on three or more occasions equal or higher than the 95th percentile appropriate for the sex, age and height of the child. High blood pressure must be confirmed on repeated visits however before characterizing a child as having hypertension. Prehypertension in children has been defined as average systolic or diastolic blood pressure that is greater than or equal to the 90th percentile, but less than the 95th percentile. In adolescents, it has been proposed that hypertension and pre-hypertension are diagnosed and classified using the same criteria as in adults.
^ 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.
NHLBI Expert Panel on Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents. We have supported the development of guidelines based on up-to-date research to evaluate and manage risk of heart disease in children and adolescents, including high blood pressure. Visit Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents for more information.
Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT). This NHLBI study began in 1994 and lasted eight years. People with high blood pressure enrolled in one part of the study and people with high blood cholesterol enrolled in another part of the study. ALLHAT’s findings have informed how we treat high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol. Visit Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial for more information about all research activities and advances from this study.
Do not attempt to lower extremely elevated blood pressure in yourself or someone else. While the goal is to reduce blood pressure before additional complications develop, blood pressure should be reduced over the course of hours to days, depending on severity. It is important not to lower blood pressure too quickly, because rapid blood pressure reductions can cut off the supply of blood to the brain, leading to brain damage or death.
The range of systolic blood pressure for most healthy adults falls between 90 and 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal diastolic blood pressure ranges between 60 and 80 mm Hg. Current guidelines define normal blood pressure range as lower than 120/80. Blood pressures over 130/80 are considered high. High blood pressure increases the risk of damaging the arteries, which leads to the development of:
Low blood pressure (hypotension) is pressure so low it causes symptoms or signs due to the low flow of blood through the arteries and veins. When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney, the organs do not function normally and may be temporarily or permanently damaged.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, before effective pharmacological treatment for hypertension became possible, three treatment modalities were used, all with numerous side-effects: strict sodium restriction (for example the rice diet), sympathectomy (surgical ablation of parts of the sympathetic nervous system), and pyrogen therapy (injection of substances that caused a fever, indirectly reducing blood pressure).
Because of the need for emergency care, it is important to recognize the early signs of malignant hypertension. The first giveaway is blood pressure of 180/120. You might have bleeding in the eyes due to rupture of the small blood vessels. Other malignant hypertension symptoms can include chest pain, dizziness, a headache, numbness in your extremities, and confusion.
One especially important cause of low blood pressure is orthostatic hypotension, which is sometimes referred to as postural hypotension. This happens when blood pressure drops rapidly during changes in body position—usually when changing from sitting to standing—inducing classic signs that the blood pressure is too low, like dizziness, blurry vision, and fainting.
In hypertensive emergency, there is evidence of direct damage to one or more organs. The most affected organs include the brain, kidney, heart and lungs, producing symptoms which may include confusion, drowsiness, chest pain and breathlessness. In hypertensive emergency, the blood pressure must be reduced more rapidly to stop ongoing organ damage, however, there is a lack of randomized controlled trial evidence for this approach.
Even occasional dizziness or lightheadedness may be a relatively minor problem — the result of mild dehydration from too much time in the sun or a hot tub, for example. Still, it's important to see your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of hypotension because they can point to more-serious problems. It can be helpful to keep a record of your symptoms, when they occur and what you're doing at the time.
Although the guidelines do not change the traditional definition of high blood pressure, they do call for more aggressive treatment of the condition through the use of a combination of blood-pressure lowering medications. In fact, they say that most people with high blood pressure will require two or more drugs to achieve a blood pressure goal of less than 140/90. The blood pressure goal in people with diabetes or kidney disease should be less than 130/80.
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.
Not only the degree of obesity is important, but also the manner in which the body accumulates extra fat. Some people gain weight around their belly (central obesity or "apple-shaped" people), while others store fat around their hips and thighs ("pear-shaped" people). "Apple-shaped" people tend to have greater health risks for high blood pressure than "pear-shaped" people.
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.
Hypertension may not produce any symptoms, even if you have had it for years. That's why it is sometimes referred to as a "silent killer." It's estimated that 1 out of every 5 people with high blood pressure aren't aware that they have this major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. If not properly treated, high blood pressure can damage the heart and circulation, lungs, brain, and kidneys without causing noticeable symptoms. Symptoms of high blood pressure may be present in those who have an extremely high blood pressure. Symptoms of extremely high blood pressure include the following:
As of 2014, approximately one billion adults or ~22% of the population of the world have hypertension. It is slightly more frequent in men, in those of low socioeconomic status, and it becomes more common with age. It is common in high, medium, and low income countries. In 2004 rates of high blood pressure were highest in Africa, (30% for both sexes) and lowest in the Americas (18% for both sexes). Rates also vary markedly within regions with rates as low as 3.4% (men) and 6.8% (women) in rural India and as high as 68.9% (men) and 72.5% (women) in Poland. Rates in Africa were about 45% in 2016.
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
The first line of treatment for hypertension is lifestyle changes, including dietary changes, physical exercise, and weight loss. Though these have all been recommended in scientific advisories, a Cochrane systematic review found no evidence for effects of weight loss diets on death, long-term complications or adverse events in persons with hypertension. The review did find a decrease in blood pressure. Their potential effectiveness is similar to and at times exceeds a single medication. If hypertension is high enough to justify immediate use of medications, lifestyle changes are still recommended in conjunction with medication.
^ Mente, Andrew; O'Donnell, Martin; Rangarajan, Sumathy; Dagenais, Gilles; Lear, Scott; McQueen, Matthew; Diaz, Rafael; Avezum, Alvaro; Lopez-Jaramillo, Patricio; Lanas, Fernando; Li, Wei; Lu, Yin; Yi, Sun; Rensheng, Lei; Iqbal, Romaina; Mony, Prem; Yusuf, Rita; Yusoff, Khalid; Szuba, Andrzej; Oguz, Aytekin; Rosengren, Annika; Bahonar, Ahmad; Yusufali, Afzalhussein; Schutte, Aletta Elisabeth; Chifamba, Jephat; Mann, Johannes F E; Anand, Sonia S; Teo, Koon; Yusuf, S (July 2016). "Associations of urinary sodium excretion with cardiovascular events in individuals with and without hypertension: a pooled analysis of data from four studies". The Lancet. 388 (10043): 465–75. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)30467-6. PMID 27216139.
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In short, everyone. The motivation behind the change was to make people healthier. With more sensitive guidelines, we are able to get in control of our blood pressure sooner and improve heart health before reaching levels that could cause more serious health problems. For some, the changing guidelines may result in antihypertensive (blood pressure lowering) medication, along with lifestyle management, but that will not be the case for everyone.
If you had previously been diagnosed with high blood pressure, the new guidelines don't affect you too much, says Dr. Conlin, as you still need to continue your efforts to lower it through medication, diet, exercise, and weight loss. "However, based on new information in the guidelines, your doctor may propose treating your blood pressure to a lower level," he says.
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.
Many expert groups recommend a slightly higher target of 150/90 mmHg for those over somewhere between 60 and 80 years of age. The JNC-8 and American College of Physicians recommend the target of 150/90 mmHg for those over 60 years of age, but some experts within these groups disagree with this recommendation. Some expert groups have also recommended slightly lower targets in those with diabetes or chronic kidney disease with protein loss in the urine, but others recommend the same target as for the general population. The issue of what is the best target and whether targets should differ for high risk individuals is unresolved, although some experts propose more intensive blood pressure lowering than advocated in some guidelines.