Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
When your heart contracts and squeezes blood out into your network of arteries, the pressure inside those blood vessels is at its highest. This is called systolic pressure and it’s the top number on your blood pressure reading. In between beats, the heart relaxes and the pressure drops. This is your diastolic blood pressure, and it’s the reading’s bottom number.
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The drug of choice for hypertensive, pregnant women is one of the oldest high blood pressure medications on the market. Methyldopa, which works to lower blood pressure through the central nervous system, has the lowest risk of harming the mother and developing fetus. Other possible safe options include labetalol, beta blockers, and diuretics. Two classes of drugs which should never be used during pregnancy include the ACE inhibitors and the angiotensin II receptor blockers.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, before effective pharmacological treatment for hypertension became possible, three treatment modalities were used, all with numerous side-effects: strict sodium restriction (for example the rice diet), sympathectomy (surgical ablation of parts of the sympathetic nervous system), and pyrogen therapy (injection of substances that caused a fever, indirectly reducing blood pressure).
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.
An exception to this is those with very high blood pressure readings especially when there is poor organ function. Initial assessment of the hypertensive people should include a complete history and physical examination. With the availability of 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitors and home blood pressure machines, the importance of not wrongly diagnosing those who have white coat hypertension has led to a change in protocols. In the United Kingdom, current best practice is to follow up a single raised clinic reading with ambulatory measurement, or less ideally with home blood pressure monitoring over the course of 7 days. The United States Preventive Services Task Force also recommends getting measurements outside of the healthcare environment. Pseudohypertension in the elderly or noncompressibility artery syndrome may also require consideration. This condition is believed to be due to calcification of the arteries resulting in abnormally high blood pressure readings with a blood pressure cuff while intra arterial measurements of blood pressure are normal. Orthostatic hypertension is when blood pressure increases upon standing.
Normal blood pressure is below 120/80. New guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) published in November of 2017 consider blood pressure elevated between 120/80 and 129/80. High blood pressure or hypertension is now classified as stage 1 if your systolic reading falls between 130 and 139 or your diastolic reading is between 80 and 89. A measure of 140/90 or higher is now considered stage 2 hypertension. A hypertensive crisis is defined as a systolic rate over 180 or a diastolic rate above 120. An elevated blood pressure means that the heart must work harder to pump blood. High blood pressure can also damage the walls of the arteries. Over time, hypertension increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. It is estimated that one in three adults in America are affected by hypertension.
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.
In November, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new guidelines that change how high blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed. Previously, it wasn’t until an adult’s blood pressure reached 140 mmHg or higher systolic (the top, or first, number) or 90 mmHg diastolic (the bottom, or second, number) or higher that high blood pressure was diagnosed. According to the new parameters, high blood pressure should be treated at 130/80 rather than 140/90, as that is the point when our risk for heart attack, stroke, and other consequences for hypertension almost doubles.
Blood pressure refers to the force exerted by circulating blood on the walls of blood vessels and constitutes one of the principal vital signs. The pressure of the circulating blood decreases as blood moves through arteries, arterioles, capillaries, and veins; the term blood pressure generally refers to arterial pressure, i.e., the pressure in the larger arteries, arteries being the blood vessels which take blood away from the heart.
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.
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.
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.
James, Paul A.; Oparil, Suzanne; Carter, Barry L.; Cushman, William C.; Dennison-Himmelfarb, Cheryl; Handler, Joel; Lackland, Daniel T.; Lefevre, Michael L.; MacKenzie, Thomas D.; Ogedegbe, Olugbenga; Smith, Sidney C.; Svetkey, Laura P.; Taler, Sandra J.; Townsend, Raymond R.; Wright, Jackson T.; Narva, Andrew S.; Ortiz, Eduardo (18 December 2013). "2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults". JAMA. 311 (5): 507–20. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.284427. PMID 24352797.
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.
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]
^ Nagele, Eva; Jeitler, Klaus; Horvath, Karl; Semlitsch, Thomas; Posch, Nicole; Herrmann, Kirsten H.; Grouven, Ulrich; Hermanns, Tatjana; Hemkens, Lars G.; Siebenhofer, Andrea (2014). "Clinical effectiveness of stress-reduction techniques in patients with hypertension". Journal of Hypertension. 32 (10): 1936–44. doi:10.1097/HJH.0000000000000298. ISSN 0263-6352. PMID 25084308.
Diuretics can lead to an increase in potassium loss, known as hypokalemia, which, in turn can affect muscular function -- including the muscles of the heart. There is also an increased risk for gout with diuretics -- as well as the possibility of weakness, thirst, dehydration, and increased urination. Changes in blood sugar levels are also possible. Skin reactions, some severe, are possible with thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide). Potassium-sparing diuretics, such as spironolactone (Aldactone) may cause breast enlargement in males.
The range of systolic blood pressure for most healthy adults falls between 90 and 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal diastolic blood pressure ranges between 60 and 80 mm Hg. Current guidelines define normal blood pressure range as lower than 120/80. Blood pressures over 130/80 are considered high. High blood pressure increases the risk of damaging the arteries, which leads to the development of:
Up to 40% of patients taking clonidine (Catapres) will experience dry mouth and about a third will have drowsiness, headache, and sleepiness. Other common side effects include constipation, dizziness, and local skin reactions with use of the Catapres-TTS skin patch. Reserpine use is linked with possible side effects including nightmares, stuffy nose, depression, and an inability to fall asleep. Diarrhea and heartburn are also possible. Guanadrel and guanethidine can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues – as well as dizziness and drowsiness.
If your blood pressure is above the normal range for up to 5 readings (taken at different visits), your doctor will likely diagnose you with high blood pressure. Sometimes the doctor may diagnose you after a fewer number of readings, depending on how high above normal your blood pressure is and if you have other medical conditions. Blood pressure tends to be at its highest during exercise, physical work, or stress, and lowest during sleep. Everyone can have a temporary increase in blood pressure at one time or another, which is why it's important to take multiple readings.
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.
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?
For example, in a hypertensive patient with asthma, it may be inadvisable to prescribe a beta blocker, as these drugs can aggravate that respiratory condition. Similarly, in patients prone to constipation (the elderly, for example) use of certain calcium channel blockers might best be avoided -- along with diuretics -- as both these classes of drugs can inhibit proper bowel function.
However, if a patient has any kind of cardiovascular disease and stage 1 hypertension (a blood pressure over 130 systolic or 80 diastolic), or no existing cardiovascular disease but a significant risk of developing it (over 10% risk within the next 10 years), then lifestyle changes plus medications are recommended. And, even if someone has less than a 10% risk, if their blood pressure is over 140 systolic or 90 diastolic, which is now stage 2 high blood pressure, they ought to be treated with medication as well.