High blood pressure, or hypertension, most commonly occurs without any symptoms and has for this reason been referred to as the "silent killer." Uncomplicated hypertension can persist for years, even decades, without causing symptoms. However, when complications of the condition begin to develop due to damage to the vascular system, symptoms can occur. Symptoms of complicated hypertension (high blood pressure) can include dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, and blurred vision. Other possible symptoms are nosebleeds, blood in the urine, fatigue, chest pain, and a pounding sensation in the neck, chest, or ears.
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.
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.
The guidelines also redefined the various categories of hypertension. It eliminated the category of prehypertension, which had been defined as systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure (the lower number in a reading) of 80 to 89 mm Hg. Instead, people with those readings are now categorized as having either elevated pressure (120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic) or Stage 1 hypertension (130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic).
Sodium is a key part of how the body controls blood pressure levels. The kidneys help balance fluid and sodium levels in the body. They use sodium and potassium to remove excess fluid from the blood. The body gets rid of this excess fluid as urine. When sodium levels in the blood are high, blood vessels retain more fluid. This increases blood pressure against the blood vessel walls.
If your blood pressure remains high for a long period of time, you run the risk of damaging your blood vessels. Your stroke risk rises significantly, too. And because your heart is working harder to push blood through your system, that very valuable muscle can become overworked and grow thicker. An enlarged heart causes further complications, including heart failure. Medications and special implantable pumps can help boost heart function. But if you can manage your blood pressure before it gets too high and puts your heart at risk, you may be able to avoid a lot of complications down the road.
Health issues may happen; however, when a person's blood pressure suddenly drops and their brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. The condition may lead to lightheadedness or dizziness. A sudden drop in blood pressure usually happens in a person who has risen from a prone or sitting position to a standing one. When this occurs it is referred to as, 'orthostatic hypotension,' or, 'postural hypotension.' Another type of low blood pressure may happen when a person stands for extended periods of time; it is referred to as, 'neurally mediated hypotension.'
If you have high blood pressure, it is important to get routine medical care and to follow your prescribed treatment plan, which will include heart-healthy lifestyle changes and possibly medicines. Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can prevent high blood pressure, reduce elevated blood pressure, help control existing high blood pressure, and prevent complications, such as heart attack, heart failure, stroke, vascular dementia, or chronic kidney disease.
A sudden fall in blood pressure can be dangerous. A change of just 20 mm Hg — a drop from 110 systolic to 90 mm Hg systolic, for example — can cause dizziness and fainting when the brain fails to receive an adequate supply of blood. And big plunges, such as those caused by uncontrolled bleeding, severe infections or allergic reactions, can be life-threatening.
Holter monitor recordings are used to diagnose intermittent episodes of abnormal heart rhythms. If abnormal rhythms occur intermittently, a standard EKG performed at the time of a visit to the doctor's office may not show the abnormal rhythm. A Holter monitor is a continuous recording of the heart's rhythm for 24 hours that often is used diagnose intermittent episodes of bradycardia or tachycardia (aslow or fast heart rate).
The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
The guidelines, from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), now define high blood pressure as 130 mm Hg or higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or 80 mm Hg or higher for the diastolic blood pressure measurement. (Systolic is the top number, and diastolic is the bottom number, in a blood pressure reading.) Previously, high blood pressure was defined as 140 mm Hg or higher for the systolic measurement and 90 or higher for the diastolic measurement.
Stress reduction techniques such as biofeedback or transcendental meditation may be considered as an add-on to other treatments to reduce hypertension, but do not have evidence for preventing cardiovascular disease on their own. Self-monitoring and appointment reminders might support the use of other strategies to improve blood pressure control, but need further evaluation.