Blood tests may be done to assess risk factors for heart disease and stroke as well as looking for complications of hypertension. These include complete blood count (CBC), electrolytes, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and creatinine and GFR (glomerular filtration rate) to measure kidney function. A fasting lipid profile will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. If appropriate, blood tests may be considered to look for an underlying cause of high blood pressure (secondary hypertension)including abnormal thyroid or adrenal gland function.
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.
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.
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.
Orthostatic hypotension symptoms: Going from a sitting or lying position to a standing position often brings out symptoms of low blood pressure. This occurs because standing causes blood to "settle" in the veins of the lower body, and this can lower the blood pressure. If the blood pressure is already low, standing can make the low pressure worse, to the point of causing symptoms. The development of lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting upon standing caused by low blood pressure is called orthostatic hypotension. Normal individuals are able to compensate rapidly for the low pressure created by standing with the responses discussed previously and do not develop orthostatic hypotension.
Sodium (salt) sensitivity: Some people have high sensitivity to sodium (salt), and their blood pressure increases if they use salt. Reducing sodium intake tends to lower their blood pressure. Americans consume 10-15 times more sodium than they need. Fast foods and processed foods contain particularly high amounts of sodium. Many over-the-counter medicines also contain large amounts of sodium. Read food labels and learn about salt content in foods and other products as a healthy first step to reducing salt intake. Fast food restaurants also make the salt and calorie content of their food available to consumers at their restaurants,
Obesity: As body weight increases, the blood pressure rises. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m. A BMI of 25-30 kg/m is considered overweight (BMI=weight in pounds x 703/ height in inches). Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure. Healthcare professionals recommend that all individuals who are obese and have high blood pressure lose weight until they are within 15% of their healthy body weight.
As you get older, high blood pressure, especially isolated systolic hypertension, is more common and can increase your risk of serious health problems. Treatment, especially if you have other medical conditions, requires ongoing evaluation and discussions with your doctor to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.