Blood pressure guidelines show the lower the blood pressure numbers the better. As long as no symptoms of trouble are present there is no one number that doctors consider being too low. The guidelines call for an individualized, risk-based approach to managing hypertension, as well as a personal consultation with a health care provider. While the new guidelines mean we are more aggressive about blood pressure control, lifestyle changes are always a part of the treatment plan. A treatment plan is agreed to by patient and provider, and includes ongoing communication to see how the patient is feeling and how their medications are working.
Diuretics can lead to an increase in potassium loss, known as hypokalemia, which, in turn can affect muscular function -- including the muscles of the heart. There is also an increased risk for gout with diuretics -- as well as the possibility of weakness, thirst, dehydration, and increased urination. Changes in blood sugar levels are also possible. Skin reactions, some severe, are possible with thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide). Potassium-sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone (Aldactone) may cause breast enlargement in males.
Unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to a myriad of serious health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, and other forms of heart disease and kidney disease. It is extremely dangerous during pregnancy because it contributes to devastating and even deadly problems for moms and babies. Other impacts of hypertension include vision problems and sexual dysfunction.
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Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide. It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism. Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia. Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.
With low blood pressure, the patient may feel faint or lose consciousness. This is due to lack of blood flow to the brain, and usually laying the patient supine will help them come round. This is also known as a blackout, and it could be accompanied by a dizzy feeling and light-headedness. Generally, your patient will report trouble focusing, difficulty keeping upright and lack of coordination.
"The recommendations are neither a policy nor a prescription for physicians," says Claude Lenfant, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. "Nobody is advocating some sort of cookbook medicine. The physician will have to decide whether this medication or that medication is the best depending on many considerations."
"Blood pressure guidelines are not updated at regular intervals. Instead, they are changed when sufficient new evidence suggests the old ones weren't accurate or relevant anymore," says Dr. Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist with Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The goal now with the new guidelines is to help people address high blood pressure — and the problems that may accompany it like heart attack and stroke — much earlier."
Finding out what genetic patterns contribute to high blood pressure risk. NHLBI-funded researchers identified dozens of new genetic variations that affect blood pressure. Scientists discovered the new genetic regions—and confirmed the role of many previously known ones by looking specifically at cigarette smoking behavior, one of many lifestyle factors that impact blood pressure. The analysis of the large samples was possible through the work of researchers in the Gene-Lifestyle Interactions Working Group of the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Consortium.
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).
Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90). However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.
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.
Much is being made of the fact that the new definitions of high blood pressure will mean roughly half of all US citizens will be considered to have high blood pressure, but when you really look at the numbers, as cardiologists already have, not that many more people will actually be advised to take medications. Although the public has good reason to be suspicious of “big pharma,” that’s not what this is about.