Hypertension clinical guidelines from the American Heart Association are comprehensive guidelines for healthcare professionals for the detection and treatment of high blood pressure in a wide range of patients. Included in the 2018 hypertension clinical guidelines are proper methods for measuring blood pressure, risk factors for hypertension, and hypertension treatment for different populations.
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.
Making some stuffed peppers for dinner tonight could be the first step on a journey toward a healthier heart and lower blood pressure. Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, with more of the potent antioxidant than even citrus fruits, which has been shown to improve cardiac function and lower blood pressure. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals that loading up on vitamin C reduced blood pressure by 5 millimeters of mercury in patients with hypertension, making these versatile veggies a smart addition to any meal plan.
Americans eat far too much dietary sodium, up to three times the recommended total amount, which is 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for individuals with high blood pressure, says Dr. Fisher. It doesn't take much sodium to reach that 1,500-mg daily cap — just 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. There's half of that amount of sodium in one Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwich. Weed out high-sodium foods by reading labels carefully. "It is very difficult to lower dietary sodium without reading labels, unless you prepare all of your own food," says Dr. Fisher. Beware in particular of what the American Heart Association has dubbed the "salty six," common foods where high amounts of sodium may be lurking:
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Take your medicines and monitor your blood pressure. Take the medications prescribed for you regularly and don’t stop them except on the advice of your health care provider. Hypertension tends to worsen with age and you cannot tell if you have high blood pressure by the way you feel, so have your health care provider measure your blood pressure periodically. You may also want to buy a home blood pressure monitor, available in many drug stores, to measure your blood pressure more frequently. Your health care provider or pharmacist can help you choose the right device. Many drug stores also have blood pressure measuring devices you can use in the store.
A person consistently showing blood pressure higher than 140/90 over several readings is considered to have hypertension. Doctors advise these people to make effective lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure, such as maintaining a healthy weight, including exercise in their daily routine, limiting salt and alcohol intake, and quitting smoking. The doctors will also recommend medication for hypertension depending on how much higher the BP is as compared to the normal blood pressure range and any other health problems that the patient faces.
Your blood pressure is said to be “high” when either your systolic blood pressure is 140 or above, or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 or above, or both. So if your blood pressure is found to be 142/88 (systolic = 142, diastolic = 88), you are diagnosed as having high blood pressure, according to current definitions. The same would be true if your blood pressure was found to be 135/92, or 152/95. In each case, either the systolic is high, or the diastolic is high, or both. Any of these findings result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
For example, if you have chest pain (angina), your doctor may recommend a beta blocker, which can lower your blood pressure and also prevent your chest pain, reduce your heart rate and decrease your risk of death. If you have diabetes and high blood pressure, taking a diuretic plus an ACE inhibitor can decrease your risk of a heart attack and stroke. If you have diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease, you may need an ACE inhibitor or an angiotensin II receptor blocker.
An important part of a high blood pressure treatment plan is to stick to a healthy diet, including limiting sodium intake. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day (2). People with high blood pressure may need to restrict sodium intake even more. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for adults with hypertension. (3)
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.
If you don't take your high blood pressure medications exactly as directed, your blood pressure can pay the price. If you skip doses because you can't afford the medications, because you have side effects or because you simply forget to take your medications, talk to your doctor about solutions. Don't change your treatment without your doctor's guidance.
With age, comes an increased risk for systolic hypertension which can be aggravated by severe atherosclerosis. According to one study, the diuretic chlorthalidone (Hygroton) had significant benefit in elderly patients with systolic hypertension. Along with a diuretic, some calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers may also be good choices. However, beta blockers may not be as effective for hypertension in those over 60; though they may be good choices if co-existing heart disease is present. It also may be preferable in elderly patients to give two high blood pressure medications at a low dose versus one at a higher dose.
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.
Another important step is to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight elevates your risk for high blood pressure and many other diseases and conditions. Losing just 5 percent of your body weight can have a significant positive impact on your blood pressure. Studies have shown that the combination of exercising and losing weight improves blood pressure numbers even more than either one alone. It may seem daunting to lose weight, but it is possible. Talk to your doctor about how other people have done it. And consider seeing a weight loss counselor too. You can do this! And after only a few pounds of healthy weight loss, you should start seeing your blood pressure numbers drop.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to make changes to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN). Some people work with an RDN if they have a health condition like type 2 diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is partly because they share similar modifiable risk factors, like being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, and having a lack of physical activity.
It is notable that relaxation and meditation, though useful for many purposes, have not been found to impact high blood pressure. Many people find this surprising, possibly since high blood pressure also is known as “hypertension.” Because of this potentially misleading term, many people have assumed that high levels of stress or “tension” are a major cause of “hypertension,” or high blood pressure. This is not the case. High blood pressure is an essentially mechanical, and not psychological, problem.