Modern understanding of the cardiovascular system began with the work of physician William Harvey (1578–1657), who described the circulation of blood in his book "De motu cordis". The English clergyman Stephen Hales made the first published measurement of blood pressure in 1733. However, hypertension as a clinical entity came into its own with the invention of the cuff-based sphygmomanometer by Scipione Riva-Rocci in 1896. This allowed easy measurement of systolic pressure in the clinic. In 1905, Nikolai Korotkoff improved the technique by describing the Korotkoff sounds that are heard when the artery is ausculated with a stethoscope while the sphygmomanometer cuff is deflated. This permitted systolic and diastolic pressure to be measured.
High blood pressure can cause problems for a mother and her baby. High blood pressure can harm a mother’s kidneys and other organs and can cause early birth and low birth weight. If you are thinking about having a baby and have high blood pressure, talk with your doctors so you can take steps to lower or control your high blood pressure before and during the pregnancy.
High blood pressure often runs in families. Much of the understanding of the body systems involved in high blood pressure has come from genetic studies. Research has identified many gene variations associated with small increases in the risk of developing high blood pressure. New research suggests that certain DNA changes during fetal development may also lead to the development of high blood pressure later in life.
The new guidelines also encourage additional monitoring, using a wearable digital monitor that continually takes blood pressure readings as you go about your life, or checked with your own cuff at home. This additional monitoring can help to tease out masked hypertension (when the blood pressure is normal in our office, but high the rest of the time) or white coat hypertension (when the blood pressure is high in our office, but normal the rest of the time). There are clear, helpful directions for setting patients up with a home blood pressure monitor, including a recommendation to give people specific instructions on when not to check blood pressure (within 30 minutes of smoking, drinking coffee, or exercising) and how to take a measurement correctly (seated comfortably, using the correct size cuff). The home blood pressure cuff should first be validated (checked in the office, for accuracy).
If elevated blood pressure levels are accompanied by diabetes, kidney disease, or cardiovascular disease, your doctor may suggest blood pressure medication as well lifestyle changes. If elevated levels are your only condition, lifestyle changes can help prevent blood pressure from rising. The following are lifestyle changes that may help lower blood pressure:
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.
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.
The value of routine screening for hypertension in children over the age of 3 years is debated. In 2004 the National High Blood Pressure Education Program recommended that children aged 3 years and older have blood pressure measurement at least once at every health care visit and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar recommendation. However, the American Academy of Family Physicians supports the view of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that the available evidence is insufficient to determine the balance of benefits and harms of screening for hypertension in children and adolescents who do not have symptoms.
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.
Exercise stress test: More commonly used for patients with borderline hypertension. This usually involves pedaling a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill. The stress test assesses how the body's cardiovascular system responds to increased physical activity. If the patient has hypertension this data is important to know before the exercise test starts. The test monitors the electrical activity of the heart, as well as the patient's blood pressure during exercise. An exercise stress test sometimes reveals problems that are not apparent when the body is resting. Imaging scans of the heart's blood supply might be done at the same time.