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.
The kidney can respond to changes in blood pressure by increasing or decreasing the amount of urine that is produced. Urine is primarily water that is removed from the blood. When the kidney makes more urine, the amount (volume) of blood that fills the arteries and veins decreases, and this lowers blood pressure. If the kidneys make less urine, the amount of blood that fills the arteries and veins increases and this increases blood pressure. Compared with the other mechanisms for adjusting blood pressure, changes in the production of urine affect blood pressure slowly over hours and days. (The other mechanisms are effective in seconds.)
Sodium, a chemical found in salt, raises blood pressure by promoting the retention of fluid by the body. This increases the workload on the heart. The American Heart Association recommends an upper daily limit for sodium consumption of 1,500 mg. Checking food labels and menus can help you calculate how much sodium you are consuming. Processed foods are particularly high in sodium and make up about 75% of our sodium intake. Among these, lunch meats and canned soups have some of the highest levels of dietary sodium.
Secondary hypertension results from an identifiable cause. Kidney disease is the most common secondary cause of hypertension. Hypertension can also be caused by endocrine conditions, such as Cushing's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, acromegaly, Conn's syndrome or hyperaldosteronism, renal artery stenosis (from atherosclerosis or fibromuscular dysplasia), hyperparathyroidism, and pheochromocytoma. Other causes of secondary hypertension include obesity, sleep apnea, pregnancy, coarctation of the aorta, excessive eating of liquorice, excessive drinking of alcohol, and certain prescription medicines, herbal remedies, and illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Arsenic exposure through drinking water has been shown to correlate with elevated blood pressure.
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.]
Obesity: As body weight increases, the blood pressure rises. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 kg/m. A BMI of 25-30 kg/m is considered overweight (BMI=weight in pounds x 703/ height in inches). Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure. Healthcare professionals recommend that all individuals who are obese and have high blood pressure lose weight until they are within 15% of their healthy body weight.
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.
Your blood pressure is considered high 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."
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Knowing your blood pressure and remembering to check it regularly can help save your life. Choosing healthier, heart-conscious foods, maintaining a healthy weight, getting up and staying active, and managing your stress are great ways to help keep your blood pressure at the level it should be. Learn more about what you can do to help control your blood pressure.