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.
If your blood pressure is 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or lower, it’s considered normal. Generally, if the blood pressure reading is under 90/60 mm Hg, it is abnormally low and is referred to as hypotension. Some adults regularly have a blood pressure in the hypotensive range, but have no symptoms at all and do not require treatment. In serious cases, though, hypotension can result in a decreased supply of oxygen and nutrients to your brain, which can eventually lead to life-threatening shock.
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.
Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. But an analysis of 34 studies seems to have delivered a verdict. On average, consuming 200 to 300 mg caffeine (the amount found in one or two cups of coffee) raises systolic blood pressure by 8 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg. And the effects can last for up to three hours. (For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee contain 100-125 mg of caffeine; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg.)
Headaches strike over 90% of adults each year. You may be able to wait out some and let them pass, but others may be a sign that your body is asking you to take action. There is a chance that your headache could be a symptom of high blood pressure. If there are no other causes of your headache, you should ask your healthcare provider about getting your blood pressure checked.
Medicines are available if these changes do not help control your blood pressure within 3 to 6 months. Diuretics help rid your body of water and sodium. ACE inhibitors block the enzyme that raises your blood pressure. Other types of medicines— beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and other vasodilators—work in different ways, but their overall effect is to help relax and widen your blood vessels and reduce the pressure inside the vessel. [See also the free government publication “Medicines to Help You: High Blood Pressure” (PDF) from the US Food and Drug Administration.]
No special preparations are necessary to have your blood pressure checked. You might want to wear a short-sleeved shirt to your appointment so that the blood pressure cuff can fit around your arm properly. Avoid eating, drinking caffeinated beverages and smoking right before your test. Plan to use the toilet before having your blood pressure measured.
Recurrent headaches: Headaches are fairly common among people with or without hypertension. Some people with hypertension notice changes or worsening of headaches when medications are skipped or when the blood pressure becomes higher than usual. Headaches associated with hypertension can be mild, moderate, or severe and can be of a throbbing nature.
The causes are most often some combination of clogged “pipes” and excessive salt in the diet. Lifestyle changes, such as appropriate diet and exercise, are among the most effective treatment strategies for high blood pressure. Relaxation, meditation, and otherwise “taking it easy” are not effective solutions, as valuable as such strategies may be for your psychological well-being.
Caffeine can raise blood pressure by tightening blood vessels and magnifying the effects of stress, says James Lane, PhD, a Duke University researcher who studies caffeine and cardiovascular health. "When you're under stress, your heart starts pumping a lot more blood, boosting blood pressure," he says. "And caffeine exaggerates that effect." (Not sure whether you need to cut back? Here are 6 physical symptoms that mean you're drinking too much coffee.)
For some reason, health care providers often think of high blood pressure—or hypertension—as a "man's problem." More men have hypertension than women when they're younger, but once women reach menopause, their risk becomes greater than men's. Overall, about half of Americans with high blood pressure are women—and they're less likely to be diagnosed and treated for it.