Though essential hypertension remains somewhat mysterious, it has been linked to certain risk factors. High blood pressure tends to run in families and is more likely to affect men than women. Age and race also play a role. In the United States, blacks are twice as likely as whites to have high blood pressure, although the gap begins to narrow around age 44. After age 65, black women have the highest incidence of high blood pressure.
We tend not to think about our blood pressure — it’s a normal function of our heart working regularly. However, when blood pressure stays high over an extended period it means the heart is working harder than it should. Since hypertension usually doesn’t have symptoms, we don’t know what is happening unless we measure it. Accurately measuring blood pressure provides a glimpse into what’s happening inside our bodies without needing expensive diagnostic tests.
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).

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.


^ Xie, X; Atkins, E; Lv, J; Bennett, A; Neal, B; Ninomiya, T; Woodward, M; MacMahon, S; Turnbull, F; Hillis, GS; Chalmers, J; Mant, J; Salam, A; Rahimi, K; Perkovic, V; Rodgers, A (30 January 2016). "Effects of intensive blood pressure lowering on cardiovascular and renal outcomes: updated systematic review and meta-analysis". Lancet. 387 (10017): 435–43. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(15)00805-3. PMID 26559744.
^ Ostchega Y, Dillon CF, Hughes JP, Carroll M, Yoon S (July 2007). "Trends in hypertension prevalence, awareness, treatment, and control in older U.S. adults: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1988 to 2004". Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 55 (7): 1056–65. doi:10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01215.x. PMID 17608879.
Fifteen natural ways to lower your blood pressure High blood pressure can damage the heart. It is common, affecting one in three people in the U.S. and 1 billion people worldwide. We describe why stress, sodium, and sugar can raise blood pressure and why berries, dark chocolate, and certain supplements may help to lower it. Learn about these factors and more here. Read now
In people aged 18 years or older hypertension is defined as either a systolic or a diastolic blood pressure measurement consistently higher than an accepted normal value (this is above 129 or 139 mmHg systolic, 89 mmHg diastolic depending on the guideline).[5][7] Other thresholds are used (135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic) if measurements are derived from 24-hour ambulatory or home monitoring.[79] Recent international hypertension guidelines have also created categories below the hypertensive range to indicate a continuum of risk with higher blood pressures in the normal range. The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7) published in 2003[27] uses the term prehypertension for blood pressure in the range 120–139 mmHg systolic or 80–89 mmHg diastolic, while European Society of Hypertension Guidelines (2007)[86] and British Hypertension Society (BHS) IV (2004)[87] use optimal, normal and high normal categories to subdivide pressures below 140 mmHg systolic and 90 mmHg diastolic. Hypertension is also sub-classified: JNC7 distinguishes hypertension stage I, hypertension stage II, and isolated systolic hypertension. Isolated systolic hypertension refers to elevated systolic pressure with normal diastolic pressure and is common in the elderly.[27] The ESH-ESC Guidelines (2007)[86] and BHS IV (2004)[87] additionally define a third stage (stage III hypertension) for people with systolic blood pressure exceeding 179 mmHg or a diastolic pressure over 109 mmHg. Hypertension is classified as "resistant" if medications do not reduce blood pressure to normal levels.[27] In November 2017, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published a joint guideline which updates the recommendations of the JNC7 report.[88]

Your circulatory system is very much like the hot tub’s. Your blood is like the water. Your heart is like the pump, and your blood vessels are like the pipes. Your heart pumps your blood through the circulatory system in order to feed oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body, and to remove waste products. By circulating through the system, your blood is filtered and re-utilized, again and again.
In general, lower doses of blood pressure medicine are as effective as higher doses and cause fewer side effects. So, when trying to find effective single-drug therapy, doctors usually begin with a low dose. They may decide to increase the dose a bit if the initial dose is ineffective—but it is rarely useful to “push” the dose of a single-drug therapy into the higher dosage ranges. Instead, if a drug fails to work at a relatively low dose, it is time to switch to a low dose of a different drug.
Again, foods that lower blood pressure are usually high in potassium and similar nutrients. Famously rich in blood pressure-lowering potassium, one banana contains about 420 milligrams, or 11 percent of the 4,700 milligrams the American Heart Association recommends people consume daily. Surprisingly, however, many veggies are actually higher in potassium than these popular fruits. A cup of Swiss chard boasts 960 milligrams, a cup of cooked white beans has nearly 1,200 milligrams, and a whole avocado has 975 milligrams. 

Facial flushing: Facial flushing occurs when blood vessels in the face dilate. It can occur unpredictably or in response to certain triggers such as sun exposure, cold weather, spicy foods, wind, hot drinks and skin-care products. Facial flushing can also occur with emotional stress, exposure to heat or hot water, alcohol consumption and exercise — all of which can raise blood pressure temporarily. While facial flushing may occur while your blood pressure is higher than usual, high blood pressure is not the cause of facial flushing.  
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.
Most people with high blood pressure are "salt sensitive," meaning that anything more than the minimal bodily need for salt is too much for them and increases their blood pressure. Other factors that can raise the risk of having essential hypertension include obesity; diabetes; stress; insufficient intake of potassium, calcium, and magnesium; lack of physical activity; and chronic alcohol consumption. 

In “guessing” on the best initial single drug to try, most experts now recommend beginning either with either a thiazide diuretic (usually chlorthalidone or hydrochlorothiazide), a long-acting calcium blocker, or an ACE inhibitor. ARBs are generally thought of as substitutes for ACE inhibitors, and generally, are used only when ACE inhibitors are poorly tolerated.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
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