High blood pressure, also known as hypertension (See blood pressure chart below) is called the “silent killer” for a reason — there are no obvious symptoms but it can result in heart attack, stroke and even death. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to maintain healthy blood pressure or get back to one, often without the need for medications.
The drug of choice for hypertensive, pregnant women is one of the oldest high blood pressure medications on the market. Methyldopa, which works to lower blood pressure through the central nervous system, has the lowest risk of harming the mother and developing fetus. Other possible safe options include labetalol, beta blockers, and diuretics. Two classes of drugs which should never be used during pregnancy include the ACE inhibitors and the angiotensin II receptor blockers.
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.
James, Paul A.; Oparil, Suzanne; Carter, Barry L.; Cushman, William C.; Dennison-Himmelfarb, Cheryl; Handler, Joel; Lackland, Daniel T.; Lefevre, Michael L.; MacKenzie, Thomas D.; Ogedegbe, Olugbenga; Smith, Sidney C.; Svetkey, Laura P.; Taler, Sandra J.; Townsend, Raymond R.; Wright, Jackson T.; Narva, Andrew S.; Ortiz, Eduardo (18 December 2013). "2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults". JAMA. 311 (5): 507–20. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.284427. PMID 24352797.
Once the diagnosis of hypertension has been made, healthcare providers should attempt to identify the underlying cause based on risk factors and other symptoms, if present. Secondary hypertension is more common in preadolescent children, with most cases caused by kidney disease. Primary or essential hypertension is more common in adolescents and has multiple risk factors, including obesity and a family history of hypertension. Laboratory tests can also be performed to identify possible causes of secondary hypertension, and to determine whether hypertension has caused damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys. Additional tests for diabetes and high cholesterol levels are usually performed because these conditions are additional risk factors for the development of heart disease and may require treatment.
It’s important to determine whether your low blood pressure is “a primary problem or secondary problem,” notes Lawrence. A primary problem means that the body’s reflexes are not working as they should. Secondary causes mean that the low blood pressure is a result of things like dehydration or the effects of certain medications. “Some anti-hypertensive [medications] are more likely to cause hypotension than others, and a lot of it is dose-dependent,” says Lawrence. “In most people, there will be some easily identifiable secondary cause, or some easy solution to what may even be a chronic problem that has no secondary cause, and that’s why it’s important to see your doctor, so they can make an appropriate assessment.”
For an accurate diagnosis of hypertension to be made, it is essential for proper blood pressure measurement technique to be used. Improper measurement of blood pressure is common and can change the blood pressure reading by up to 10 mmHg, which can lead to misdiagnosis and misclassification of hypertension. Correct blood pressure measurement technique involves several steps. Proper blood pressure measurement requires the person whose blood pressure is being measured to sit quietly for at least five minutes which is then followed by application of a properly fitted blood pressure cuff to a bare upper arm. The person should be seated with their back supported, feet flat on the floor, and with their legs uncrossed. The person whose blood pressure is being measured should avoid talking or moving during this process. The arm being measured should be supported on a flat surface at the level of the heart. Blood pressure measurement should be done in a quiet room so the medical professional checking the blood pressure can hear the Korotkoff sounds while listening to the brachial artery with a stethoscope for accurate blood pressure measurements. The blood pressure cuff should be deflated slowly (2-3 mmHg per second) while listening for the Korotkoff sounds. The bladder should be emptied before a person's blood pressure is measured since this can increase blood pressure by up to 15/10 mmHg. Multiple blood pressure readings (at least two) spaced 1–2 minutes apart should be obtained to ensure accuracy. Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over 12 to 24 hours is the most accurate method to confirm the diagnosis.
All of these steps and techniques are things you should ask your doctor about as part of your personalized health plan. Preventative care from an experienced physician is the best way to fend off many health problems, and hypertension is no exception. Find a skilled St. Joseph Health primary care physician or heart specialist using our online provider directory. Download our health numbers report card to help you track your blood pressure and other common markers that measure heart health.
When was the last time you thought about your blood pressure? If you're like most people, it probably hasn't been since your doctor mentioned it during your last checkup. But high blood pressure (hypertension) is a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening problems, like heart attack and stroke. The good news is that you can lower your risk of hypertension with lifestyle changes.
MRI (or magnetic resonance imaging) scan is a radiology technique which uses magnetism, radio waves, and a computer to produce images of body structures. MRI scanning is painless and does not involve X-ray radiation. Patients with heart pacemakers, metal implants, or metal chips or clips in or around the eyes cannot be scanned with MRI because of the effect of the magnet.
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.
Various organizations including the United States Department of Agriculture recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. But the ideal limit is really no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. Unfortunately, the average sodium intake of Americans is more than 3,400 mg per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is partly because sodium is so easy to consume — just 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium.
Many mechanisms have been proposed to account for the rise in peripheral resistance in hypertension. Most evidence implicates either disturbances in the kidneys' salt and water handling (particularly abnormalities in the intrarenal renin–angiotensin system) or abnormalities of the sympathetic nervous system. These mechanisms are not mutually exclusive and it is likely that both contribute to some extent in most cases of essential hypertension. It has also been suggested that endothelial dysfunction and vascular inflammation may also contribute to increased peripheral resistance and vascular damage in hypertension. Interleukin 17 has garnered interest for its role in increasing the production of several other immune system chemical signals thought to be involved in hypertension such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukin 1, interleukin 6, and interleukin 8.
Blood pressure is measure in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers, systolic and diastolic. Systolic is the top number (also the higher one), which measure the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, so when its muscles contract. Diastolic the bottom number (also the lower one), which measures the pressure in the arteries between heart beats, so when the muscles relax and refill with blood.
One reason to visit your doctor regularly is to have your blood pressure checked. Routine checks of your blood pressure will help pick up an early rise in blood pressure, even though you might feel fine. If there's an indication that your blood pressure is high at two or more checkups, the doctor may ask you to check your blood pressure at home at different times of the day. If the pressure stays high, even when you are relaxed, the doctor may suggest exercise, changes in your diet, and, most likely, medications.
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.
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.
When healthy lifestyle changes alone do not control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may change or update your treatment plan by prescribing medicines to treat your condition. These medicines act in different ways to lower blood pressure. When prescribing medicines, your doctor will also consider their effect on other conditions you might have, such as heart disease or kidney disease. Possible high blood pressure medicines include:
High blood pressure (for example, 180/110 or higher) may indicate an emergency situation. If this high blood pressure is associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, or back or abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately. If you are experiencing no associated symptoms with a high blood pressure reading such as this, re-check it again within a few minutes and contact your doctor or go to an emergency room if it is still high.
Remember, though, there are many steps you can take to lower your blood pressure. It’s important to work together with your health care team to set your blood pressure goal—the reading you’d like to consistently see when your blood pressure is taken—and how you can best reach it. If you have coronary artery disease, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, managing high blood pressure is especially important.
Blood pressure readings fall into four general categories, ranging from normal to stage 2 high blood pressure (hypertension). The level of your blood pressure determines what kind of treatment you may need. To get an accurate blood pressure measurement, your doctor should evaluate your readings based on the average of two or more blood pressure readings at three or more office visits.
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). Other thresholds are used (135 mmHg systolic or 85 mmHg diastolic) if measurements are derived from 24-hour ambulatory or home monitoring. 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 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) and British Hypertension Society (BHS) IV (2004) 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. The ESH-ESC Guidelines (2007) and BHS IV (2004) 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. In November 2017, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published a joint guideline which updates the recommendations of the JNC7 report.
Blood pressure is assessed using two parameters -- the systolic and diastolic pressures -- which measure, respectively, the maximum pressure exerted in the arteries as the heart contracts, and the minimum pressure in those vessels between cardiac contractions. In adults, blood pressure is considered normal if the top number (systolic pressure) is between 90 and 120 and the bottom number (diastolic) is between 60 and 80.
What you need to know about beta-blockers Beta-blockers are drugs that are used to slow down a person's heart rate. Doctors may prescribe them for a range of reasons, including angina and high blood pressure. There are many types and brands of beta-blockers, some of which affect other parts of the body. Learn about side effects, cautions, and interactions. Read now
Reduce the stress in your life. Long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure. There are small lifestyle changes you can make to both combat stress and to manage the effects of it in healthy ways. Exercise, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, meditating, praying, journaling, laughing, listening to music, spending time with family and friends, and playing with animals can all help reduce your stress and lower blood pressure. Learn about more tips for reducing stress.
Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.
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.
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.
When your heart contracts and squeezes blood out into your network of arteries, the pressure inside those blood vessels is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure and it’s the top number on your blood pressure reading. In between beats, the heart relaxes and the pressure drops. This is your diastolic blood pressure, and it’s the reading’s bottom number.
Sprinkling ground flaxseed over your meals can make a big impact on your blood pressure readings. In a 2013 study published in the journal Hypertension, participants with high blood pressure and peripheral artery disease ate 30 grams (about an ounce) of milled flaxseed daily. After six months, their systolic blood pressure (the top number) went down by 15 mm Hg, on average, and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped by 7 mm Hg.
Last year, new guidelines from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and nine other health organizations lowered the numbers for the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and higher for all adults. The previous guidelines set the threshold at 140/90 mm Hg for people younger than age 65 and 150/80 mm Hg for those ages 65 and older.
"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."
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 guidelines also say that a patient's blood pressure levels should be based on an average of two to three readings on at least two different occasions. It's also reasonable for doctors to screen for "white-coat hypertension," which occurs when blood pressure is elevated in a medical setting but not in everyday life, the authors said. This can be done by having patients measure their blood pressure at home.