As of 2014, approximately one billion adults or ~22% of the population of the world have hypertension. It is slightly more frequent in men, in those of low socioeconomic status, and it becomes more common with age. It is common in high, medium, and low income countries. In 2004 rates of high blood pressure were highest in Africa, (30% for both sexes) and lowest in the Americas (18% for both sexes). Rates also vary markedly within regions with rates as low as 3.4% (men) and 6.8% (women) in rural India and as high as 68.9% (men) and 72.5% (women) in Poland. Rates in Africa were about 45% in 2016.
According to guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), a reading below 120/80 mm Hg is classified as normal blood pressure. Those with a blood pressure reading anywhere from 120/80 up to 129/80 are classified within a category called elevated blood pressure. Hypertension is defined as a reading of 130/80 or higher.
Hypertension is diagnosed on the basis of a persistently high resting blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends at least three resting measurements on at least two separate health care visits. The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends ambulatory blood pressure monitoring to confirm the diagnosis of hypertension if a clinic blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher.
The fact that there are so many drugs to choose from means at least two things. First, it means there is no “best” drug for hypertension, that is, there is no drug that works well for almost everyone without causing unacceptable adverse effects. If there were, drug companies would have stopped their efforts to develop new antihypertensive drugs long ago—and the list of approved drugs would be much shorter.
For older people, often the first number (systolic) is 130 or higher, but the second number (diastolic) is less than 80. This problem is called isolated systolic hypertension, which is due to age-related stiffening of the major arteries. It is the most common form of high blood pressure in older people and can lead to serious health problems (stroke, heart disease, eye problems, and kidney failure) in addition to shortness of breath during light physical activity, lightheadedness upon standing too fast, and falls. Isolated systolic hypertension is treated in the same way as regular high blood pressure (130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number) but may require more than one type of blood pressure medication. If your doctor determines that your systolic pressure is above a normal level for your age, ask how you can lower it.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
The new guidelines note that blood pressure should be measured on a regular basis and encourage people to use home blood pressure monitors. Monitors can range from $40 to $100 on average, but your insurance may cover part or all of the cost. Measure your blood pressure a few times a week and see your doctor if you notice any significant changes. Here are some tips on how to choose and use a monitor.
Many expert groups recommend a slightly higher target of 150/90 mmHg for those over somewhere between 60 and 80 years of age. The JNC-8 and American College of Physicians recommend the target of 150/90 mmHg for those over 60 years of age, but some experts within these groups disagree with this recommendation. Some expert groups have also recommended slightly lower targets in those with diabetes or chronic kidney disease with protein loss in the urine, but others recommend the same target as for the general population. The issue of what is the best target and whether targets should differ for high risk individuals is unresolved, although some experts propose more intensive blood pressure lowering than advocated in some guidelines.
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.
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Cut down on salt. As you get older, the body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt (sodium), so you may need to watch how much salt is in your diet. Most of the salt comes from processed foods (for example, soup and baked goods). A low-salt diet, such as the DASH diet, might help lower your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about eating less salt.
Early signs of pulmonary arterial hypertension can be related to the trouble you have getting blood to your lungs to get oxygenated. You might experience shortness of breath and a fast heart beat while doing activities that are otherwise routine, such as climbing stairs. You might also have chest pain, a reduced appetite, and pain in your chest or upper right portion of your abdomen.
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.
It is normal that blood pressure fluctuates during the day. Consecutive measurement will show a circadian rhythm over a 24-hour period. Usually highest reading will be observed in the morning, while lowest readings will be observed in the evening or during the night, when body is at rest. It is also important to note that blood pressure values may be affected by adrenaline, emotions, exercise, sleep patterns and digestion so make sure you pick a good time to do the screening, or otherwise your measurements will not be accurate. It is advisable to repeat the measurement up to three times in a row (with a pause of few minutes in between) to establish a correct value.
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.