High blood pressure is a common and dangerous condition. Having high blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be. But you can take steps to control your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. About 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 75 million people—have high blood pressure.1 Only about half (54%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control.1 Many youth are also being diagnosed with high blood pressure.2 This common condition increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.3 Get more quick facts about high blood pressure, or learn more about high blood pressure in the United States.
Unfortunately, a problem doesn’t always announce itself with a fanfare of trumpets. Even the highest blood pressure can be entirely asymptomatic. Similarly, low blood pressure also known as hypotension can occur in your patient despite no symptoms seemingly being present. This is particularly true if the patient is lying still in an unmonitored bed.
In most people with established essential hypertension, increased resistance to blood flow (total peripheral resistance) accounts for the high pressure while cardiac output remains normal. There is evidence that some younger people with prehypertension or 'borderline hypertension' have high cardiac output, an elevated heart rate and normal peripheral resistance, termed hyperkinetic borderline hypertension. These individuals develop the typical features of established essential hypertension in later life as their cardiac output falls and peripheral resistance rises with age. Whether this pattern is typical of all people who ultimately develop hypertension is disputed. The increased peripheral resistance in established hypertension is mainly attributable to structural narrowing of small arteries and arterioles, although a reduction in the number or density of capillaries may also contribute.
The findings mean that an additional 14 percent of U.S. adults, or about 30 million people, will now be diagnosed as having high blood pressure, compared with the number diagnosed before the new guidelines. This will bring the total percentage of U.S. adults with high blood pressure to 46 percent, up from 32 percent previously. [9 New Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy]
Some people may ask why doctors are lowering the threshold for high blood pressure, when it was already difficult for many patients to achieve the previous blood pressure targets of below 140 mm Hg/90 mm Hg, said Dr. Pamela B. Morris, a preventive cardiologist and chairwoman of the ACC's Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Leadership Council. However, Morris said that the guidelines were changed because "we now have more precise estimates of the risk of [high] blood pressures," and these new guidelines really communicate that risk to patients. So, just because it's going to be difficult for people to achieve, "I don't think it's a reason not to communicate the risk to patients, and to empower them to make appropriate lifestyle modifications," Morris told Live Science.
The cause for hypertension is not always known, although it can develop as a result of other health conditions including: sleep apnea, kidney problems, and thyroid issues. Beyond chronic health conditions, risk factors for hypertension include age, the amount of salt you eat, being overweight or obese, using tobacco, drinking excessively, not exercising, and having too little potassium in your diet.
If your blood pressure readings are consistently high, you and your doctor will probably discuss treatment strategies. Treatment for high blood pressure often begins with lifestyle changes such as a weight loss and exercise program as well as a low sodium diet. In fact, the AHA recommends adopting these strategies as a means of preventing the development of high blood pressure and heart disease. If these strategies are not successful in lowering your blood pressure, medications may be recommended.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne and Macquarie University have uncovered unusual activity between neurons controlling breathing and blood pressure during the development of essential hypertension. Essential hypertension, which is high blood pressure with no known cause, affects 30% of the global population and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.