A blood pressure reading contains two numbers: systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the top or first number in your blood pressure reading; it indicates the pressure within your arteries when your heart pumps out blood. Diastolic pressure is the bottom number, and shows the pressure in your arteries while your heart is filling with blood.
Your doctor may also use a device called an ophthalmoscope to look at the blood vessels in your eyes. Doctors can see if these vessels have thickened, narrowed, or burst, which may be a sign of high blood pressure. Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to your heart and the sound of blood flowing through your arteries. In some cases, a chest x-ray and electrocardiogram may be needed.
If an underlying medical condition causes hypertension, you’ll need to treat this condition to maintain a healthy blood pressure. For example, people with sleep apnea tend to develop high blood pressure. Treatment of sleep apnea with a CPAP machine can help to lower your high blood pressure due to sleep apnea. Another example is high blood pressure associated with obesity that improves after weight loss.
If your blood pressure is always on the low side and you do not have any of the above symptoms, there is usually no cause for concern. Similarly, if you have a single at-home blood pressure reading that is abnormally low without any symptoms, you probably do not need to see your doctor. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall over time, and your body is usually able to get your blood pressure back to normal.
A blood pressure reading measures both the systolic and diastolic forces, with the systolic pressure listed first. The numbers show your pressure in units of millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)—how high the pressure inside your arteries would be able to raise a column of mercury. For example, a reading of 120/80 mm Hg means a systolic pressure of 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg.
Your total blood pressure reading is determined by measuring your systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Systolic blood pressure, the top number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries each time it beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries in between beats.
Guanadrel (Hylorel)* or guanethidine (Ismelin)* may cause some diarrhea, which may persist in some people. This side effect usually becomes less of a problem if you continue treatment. These drugs reduce blood pressure more when you stand. Consequently, you may get dizzy and lightheaded and feel weak when you get out of bed in the morning or stand up suddenly. If you notice any of these reactions and if they persist for more than a minute or two, contact your doctor. He/she may instruct you to reduce or omit the next dose of the medication.
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.
Swearing off cigarettes is probably the single best thing you can do for your heart. It’s good for your health in general, too. Not only does smoke hurt you over the long term, but your blood pressure goes up every time you have a cigarette. Lower your blood pressure and prolong your life by quitting. If you need help getting started, talk to your doctor.
About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
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.
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. 

There was a time when the high blood pressure medication list was very short indeed. In the 1950s, reserpine was one of the few products on the market to treat hypertension. It is rarely used due to its numerous side effects and drug interactions. The peripheral adrenergic inhibitors work in the brain to block signals that tell blood vessels to constrict. They are mostly used when other high blood pressure medications fail to solve the problem. Guanadrel (Hylorel), guanethidine monosulfate (Ismelin), and reserpine (Serpasil) are peripheral adrenergic inhibitors.

When you get a high blood pressure reading at the doctor's office, it might be tough for you to understand exactly what impact those numbers can make on your overall health, since high blood pressure has no unusual day-to-day symptoms. But the truth is, having high blood pressure is a serious health risk—it boosts the risks of leading killers such as heart attack and stroke, as well as aneurysms, cognitive decline, and kidney failure. What's more, high blood pressure is a primary or contributing cause of death in more than 1,000 deaths a day in the United States.


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.

How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.
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.
Digital blood pressure readings have two numbers – systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. The top number is your systolic blood pressure (the highest pressure when your heart beats and pushes blood around your body), and the bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure (the lowest pressure between heart beats). A blood pressure reading is usually these two numbers over each other – like 120/80.
If your blood pressure reading is 180/120 or higher and you’re experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, back pain, chest pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, or difficulty speaking - you’re having a hypertensive emergency and need to seek emergency medical attention. Do not wait to see if your blood pressure improves. Call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room. To treat this serious condition, doctors may give you blood pressure medications intravenously (IV),  or other treatments aimed to decrease your risk of long-term effects.

Hypertension causes complications such as heart attack and stroke, and these complications are less likely to occur in women who have undergone menopause than men of the same age. When comparing the complication risks of hypertension between men and women aged between 40 and 70 years, it is seen that men are at a higher risk of developing complications than women.
Cayenne Pepper is probably the fastest way to lower high blood pressure. Cayenne pepper is a powerful vasodilator, which means it helps expand blood vessels and improve blood flow. This effect naturally lowers blood pressure levels by increasing the rate at which blood flows throughout the circulatory system, which in turn takes some of the pressure off arterial walls. Either mix one teaspoon of cayenne pepper with half a cup of lukewarm water or mix two tablespoons of raw organic honey with two teaspoons of cayenne pepper; boil them with eight ounces of water and drink when it is warm. A side note: Be careful how many Scoville Units your cayenne pepper is. I bought mine, 90,000 Scoville Units, and OMG. I thought I was going to breathe fire.
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