High blood pressure, also known as hypertension (See blood pressure chart below) is called the “silent killer” for a reason — there are no obvious symptoms but it can result in heart attack, stroke and even death. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to maintain healthy blood pressure or get back to one, often without the need for medications.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; pii: S0735-1097(17)41519-1. PMID: 29146535 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146535.
Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure when you have consistent systolic readings of 140 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 90 mm Hg or higher. Based on research, your doctor may also consider you to have high blood pressure if you are an adult or child age 13 or older who has consistent systolic readings of 130 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic readings of 80 to 89 mm Hg and you have other cardiovascular risk factors.
"Blood pressure guidelines are not updated at regular intervals. Instead, they are changed when sufficient new evidence suggests the old ones weren't accurate or relevant anymore," says Dr. Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist with Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The goal now with the new guidelines is to help people address high blood pressure — and the problems that may accompany it like heart attack and stroke — much earlier."
Health care providers measure blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer (sfig-mo-muh-NAH-muh-ter), which has a cuff that's wrapped around the upper arm and pumped up to create pressure. When the cuff is inflated, it squeezes a large artery in the arm, stopping the blood flow for a moment. Blood pressure is measured as air is gradually let out of the cuff, which allows blood to flow through the artery again.
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?

Keeping track of your blood pressure is important. Your doctor can help you learn how to check your blood pressure at home. Each time you check your own blood pressure, record your numbers and the date. Send or take the log of your blood pressure readings with you for appointments with your doctor. Return to Screening for reminders on how to prepare for blood pressure testing.
The new guidelines stem from the 2017 results of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT), which studied more than 9,000 adults ages 50 and older who had systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) of 130 mm Hg or higher and at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The study's aim was to find out whether treating blood pressure to lower the systolic number to 120 mm Hg or less was superior to the standard target of 140 mm Hg or less. The results found that targeting a systolic pressure of no more than 120 mm Hg reduced the chance of heart attacks, heart failure, or stroke over a three-year period.
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.
Quitting smoking. Visit Smoking and Your Heart and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Your Guide to a Healthy Heart [PDF – 2MB]. Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking. For free help and support to quit smoking, you can call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).
In hypertensive emergency, there is evidence of direct damage to one or more organs.[27][28] The most affected organs include the brain, kidney, heart and lungs, producing symptoms which may include confusion, drowsiness, chest pain and breathlessness.[26] In hypertensive emergency, the blood pressure must be reduced more rapidly to stop ongoing organ damage,[26] however, there is a lack of randomized controlled trial evidence for this approach.[28]
Some people have blood vessels that are stiff and lack elasticity, due to vascular disease. When this affects the tiny arteries (arterioles), the arteriolar stiffness causes increased resistance to the flow of blood and high blood pressure. This is most common in people who are also obese, have a lack of physical activity or exercise, have high salt intake, and are older.
These guidelines help guide healthcare practices, and can be related to patient reimbursement and healthcare coverage. The tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD-10, is the set of codes used to designate specific health conditions and allow for reimbursement through health insurance programs. 

If these lifestyle changes don't lower your blood pressure to a safe level, your doctor will also prescribe medicine. You may try several kinds or combinations of medicines before finding a plan that works best for you. Medicine can control your blood pressure, but it can't cure it. You will likely need to take medicine for the rest of your life. Plan with your doctor how to manage your blood pressure.
Changes in blood vessel structure. Blood vessels have layers of the proteins elastin and collagen. Elastin is what makes blood vessels flexible. Collagen, which is stiffer, gives vessels structure. With age, elastin breaks down. Even the elastin that remains becomes less elastic. Meanwhile, collagen deposits in the vessels increase. As a result, blood vessels grow thicker and bend less easily over time. These changes may lead to higher systolic blood pressure.
Exercise also causes vasodilation, or the widening of blood vessels, which increases blood flow and decreases peripheral resistance — which, in healthy people, keeps the diastolic blood pressure from rising during activity. In fact, a diastolic blood pressure increasing greater than 10 mmHg during or after exercise represents an unstable form of hypertension, and may be associated with coronary artery disease, notes Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico.
A single lower-than-normal reading is not cause for alarm, unless you are experiencing any other symptoms or problems. If you experience any dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea or other symptoms, it’s a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider. To help with your diagnosis, keep a record of your symptoms and activities at the time they occurred.
Facial flushing: Facial flushing occurs when blood vessels in the face dilate. It can occur unpredictably or in response to certain triggers such as sun exposure, cold weather, spicy foods, wind, hot drinks and skin-care products. Facial flushing can also occur with emotional stress, exposure to heat or hot water, alcohol consumption and exercise — all of which can raise blood pressure temporarily. While facial flushing may occur while your blood pressure is higher than usual, high blood pressure is not the cause of facial flushing.  
tilt table test – usually recommended if your doctor suspects you might have orthostatic hypotension or NMH (During this diagnostic test, a person lies on a table and then the table is tilted to raise the upper part of their body. This simulates the change in position from sitting or lying down to standing up. People with orthostatic hypotension or NMH may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even faint when their position changes.) 

Tilt-table tests are used to evaluate patients suspected of having postural hypotension or syncope due to abnormal function of the autonomic nerves. During a tilt-table test, the patient lies on an examination table with an intravenous infusion administered while the heart rate and blood pressure are monitored. The table then is tilted upright for 15 minutes to 45 minutes. Heart rate and blood pressure are monitored every few minutes. The purpose of the test is to try to reproduce postural hypotension. Sometimes a doctor may administer epinephrine (Adrenalin, Isuprel) intravenously to induce postural hypotension.
Systolic BP lower than 90 mm Hg or diastolic BP lower than 60 mm Hg is considered low blood pressure or hypotension. Unlike hypertension, hypotension is more likely to be due to a primary cause (dehydration, heart disease, drugs, endocrine disease, etc.) and thus therapy is often aimed at treating the primary cause. Borderline BP with no obvious cause can be treated with increased salt and water intake, regular mild exercises, cutting down on alcohol, etc.). Drug therapy can be used if such hypotension is not amenable to these measures.
^ Aronow WS, Fleg JL, Pepine CJ, Artinian NT, Bakris G, Brown AS, Ferdinand KC, Ann Forciea M, Frishman WH, Jaigobin C, Kostis JB, Mancia G, Oparil S, Ortiz E, Reisin E, Rich MW, Schocken DD, Weber MA, Wesley DJ, Harrington RA, Bates ER, Bhatt DL, Bridges CR, Eisenberg MJ, Ferrari VA, Fisher JD, Gardner TJ, Gentile F, Gilson MF, Hlatky MA, Jacobs AK, Kaul S, Moliterno DJ, Mukherjee D, Rosenson RS, Stein JH, Weitz HH, Wesley DJ (2011). "ACCF/AHA 2011 expert consensus document on hypertension in the elderly: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation Task Force on Clinical Expert Consensus Documents developed in collaboration with the American Academy of Neurology, American Geriatrics Society, American Society for Preventive Cardiology, American Society of Hypertension, American Society of Nephrology, Association of Black Cardiologists, and European Society of Hypertension". J Am Soc Hypertens. 5 (4): 259–352. doi:10.1016/j.jash.2011.06.001. PMID 21771565.

In normal blood pressure for elderly & adults over 50, increased systolic blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Systolic blood pressure tends to increase steadily over time due to stiff arteries, a build-up of plaque, and a higher rate of cardiac and vascular disease. This means older adults need to be even more vigilant about monitoring their blood pressure.
If your systolic and diastolic blood pressure are in two different categories, doctors consider the number that is in the higher category. For example, if your blood pressure is 135/91, your systolic blood pressure is in the prehypertensive range and your diastolic blood pressure is in the range of Stage 1 hypertension. Your measurement or 135/91 would place you in the category of Stage 1 hypertension.
Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90). However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.
It’s important to determine whether your low blood pressure is “a primary problem or secondary problem,” notes Lawrence. A primary problem means that the body’s reflexes are not working as they should. Secondary causes mean that the low blood pressure is a result of things like dehydration or the effects of certain medications. “Some anti-hypertensive [medications] are more likely to cause hypotension than others, and a lot of it is dose-dependent,” says Lawrence. “In most people, there will be some easily identifiable secondary cause, or some easy solution to what may even be a chronic problem that has no secondary cause, and that’s why it’s important to see your doctor, so they can make an appropriate assessment.”
It is important to go to your regular check-ups with your doctor. Hypertension is a common condition and, if caught, can be treated with medication to prevent complications. However, if you experience any of the symptoms of hypertension, such as frequent headaches, recurrent dizziness, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, don't wait—speak to your doctor immediately.
African-Americans are at greater risk of developing hypertension than people of other races. African-Americans develop high blood pressure earlier in life and have more difficulty achieving blood pressure goals. Some studies suggest that African-Americans may be more sensitive to salt than other races. For those who are genetically prone to salt sensitivity, a small amount (half-teaspoon) of salt can raise blood pressure by 5 mm Hg. Dietary factors and being overweight can also raise blood pressure.

Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide.[149] It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease,[150] strokes,[23] peripheral vascular disease,[151] and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism.[11][23] Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.[23] Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.[27]
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.

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There are even more medication types that can lower blood pressure. Some of these are alpha blockers, vasodilators, and central alpha agonists. Your doctor may prescribe these medications if other medications have been ineffective or if you have another condition along with hypertension. Side effects can include fast pulse, palpitations, dizziness, diarrhea, or headaches.
Your doctor can help you measure and track your blood pressure to confirm whether it’s too high. You may need to start taking medications if your blood pressure doesn’t improve after one month of following a healthy lifestyle, especially if you’re already at high risk for heart disease. If you’re at lower risk, your doctor may want to follow up in three to six months after you’ve adopted more healthy habits.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f Chobanian AV, Bakris GL, Black HR, Cushman WC, Green LA, Izzo Jr. JL, Jones DW, Materson BJ, Oparil S, Wright Jr. JT, Roccella EJ, et al. (December 2003). "Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure". Hypertension. Joint National Committee On Prevention. 42 (6): 1206–52. doi:10.1161/01.HYP.0000107251.49515.c2. PMID 14656957. Archived from the original on 20 May 2012. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
2. Take the right nutrients. Talk with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional about the wide range of well-studied nutrients that, along with dietary and lifestyle modifications, can help normalize your blood pressure. One meta-analysis found magnesium supplements could lower blood pressure. Likewise, researchers find a small but significant decline in blood pressure for people with hypertension who use fish oil. (You can get all of fish oil’s benefits combined with anti-inflammatory flax oil and GLA in our Optimal Omega.) 
"Blood pressure guidelines are not updated at regular intervals. Instead, they are changed when sufficient new evidence suggests the old ones weren't accurate or relevant anymore," says Dr. Paul Conlin, an endocrinologist with Harvard-affiliated VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham and Women's Hospital. "The goal now with the new guidelines is to help people address high blood pressure — and the problems that may accompany it like heart attack and stroke — much earlier."
Genetics plays a role in hypertension, and much of essential hypertension could ultimately turn out to be genetic in origin. Genes are believed to have approximately 30 percent to 50 percent impact on blood pressure. Specific genes have not been identified as responsible for hypertension, however. This may be due to the fact that there are many genes that interact together to influence blood pressure, with some of these genetic variants being more common than others.
Blood pressure is expressed by two measurements, the systolic and diastolic pressures, which are the maximum and minimum pressures, respectively.[1] For most adults, normal blood pressure at rest is within the range of 100–130 millimeters mercury (mmHg) systolic and 60–80 mmHg diastolic.[7][12] For most adults, high blood pressure is present if the resting blood pressure is persistently at or above 130/80 or 140/90 mmHg.[5][7] Different numbers apply to children.[13] Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over a 24-hour period appears more accurate than office-based blood pressure measurement.[5][10]
An elevated blood pressure reading means that your blood pressure falls just above the normal level, corresponding to a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 or a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. The new guidelines eliminate the previous category of prehypertension. About one-fourth of Americans have elevated levels and they have two times the risk of heart disease compared with those who have lower blood pressures. Lifestyle changes can help many people with prehypertension lower their blood pressure.
When blood pressure is measured, there are two numbers for each reading: for example, "120 over 80" is written as 120/80. This is because each heartbeat sends a pressure wave through the bloodstream. The higher number (systolic blood pressure) is the peak of the wave, when your heart contracts (the loud "thump" when you listen to your heartbeat). The lower number (diastolic blood pressure) is the lower "dip" or trough of the wave, when your heart relaxes.
A reduction from 8% to 6% of cardiovascular events is known as an absolute risk reduction of 2%. This may seem small, but the translation is not small when applied to real world people. This can be understood more easily as something called “number needed to treat” which is calculated by 1 divided by the absolute risk reduction. In this case, an absolute risk reduction of 2% translates to a “number needed to treat” of 50 (1 divided by 0.02 = 50). This means that 50 people need to have a BP down to < 120/80 in order for 1 cardiovascular event to be prevented. In the context of many other things we do in our life (medical treatment or not), this is really good!
Blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels. It constitutes one of the critically important signs of life or vital signs, which include heart rate, breathing, and temperature. Blood pressure is generated by the heart pumping blood into the arteries modified by the response of the arteries to the flow of blood.

Finding out what genetic patterns contribute to high blood pressure risk. NHLBI-funded researchers identified dozens of new genetic variations that affect blood pressure. Scientists discovered the new genetic regions—and confirmed the role of many previously known ones by looking specifically at cigarette smoking behavior, one of many lifestyle factors that impact blood pressure. The analysis of the large samples was possible through the work of researchers in the Gene-Lifestyle Interactions Working Group of the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Consortium.
If diet and exercise are not sufficient to lower blood pressure, the first medications recommended are often diuretics or so-called "water pills." These reduce sodium and fluid levels in the body to lower blood pressure. Taking diuretics means you will urinate more frequently. Sometimes, diuretics deplete potassium levels as well, which can lead to muscle weakness, leg cramps, and tiredness. Other side effects of diuretics can include elevated blood sugars in people with diabetes. Less commonly, erectile dysfunction can occur.
Cirrhosis of the liver is the most common cause of portal hypertension. In cirrhosis, the scar tissue (from the healing of liver injury caused by hepatitis, alcohol, or other liver damage) blocks the flow of blood through the liver. Blood clots in the portal vein, blockages of the veins that carry blood from the liver to the heart, parasitic infection (schistosomiasis), and focal nodular hyperplasia are also causes of portal hypertension.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
For an accurate diagnosis of hypertension to be made, it is essential for proper blood pressure measurement technique to be used.[76] Improper measurement of blood pressure is common and can change the blood pressure reading by up to 10 mmHg, which can lead to misdiagnosis and misclassification of hypertension.[76] Correct blood pressure measurement technique involves several steps. Proper blood pressure measurement requires the person whose blood pressure is being measured to sit quietly for at least five minutes which is then followed by application of a properly fitted blood pressure cuff to a bare upper arm.[76] The person should be seated with their back supported, feet flat on the floor, and with their legs uncrossed.[76] The person whose blood pressure is being measured should avoid talking or moving during this process.[76] The arm being measured should be supported on a flat surface at the level of the heart.[76] Blood pressure measurement should be done in a quiet room so the medical professional checking the blood pressure can hear the Korotkoff sounds while listening to the brachial artery with a stethoscope for accurate blood pressure measurements.[76][77] The blood pressure cuff should be deflated slowly (2-3 mmHg per second) while listening for the Korotkoff sounds.[77] The bladder should be emptied before a person's blood pressure is measured since this can increase blood pressure by up to 15/10 mmHg.[76] Multiple blood pressure readings (at least two) spaced 1–2 minutes apart should be obtained to ensure accuracy.[77] Ambulatory blood pressure monitoring over 12 to 24 hours is the most accurate method to confirm the diagnosis.[78]
Medications used to lower blood pressure include diuretics (e.g., hydrochlorothiazide*), beta-blockers (e.g., atenolol, metoprolol), ACE inhibitors (e.g., ramipril, enalapril, lisinopril), calcium channel blockers (e.g., nifedipine, amlodipine), angiotensin II receptor blockers (e.g., losartan, valsartan), and direct renin inhibitors (e.g., aliskiren).
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