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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]
Last year, new guidelines from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and nine other health organizations lowered the numbers for the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and higher for all adults. The previous guidelines set the threshold at 140/90 mm Hg for people younger than age 65 and 150/80 mm Hg for those ages 65 and older.
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.
Meschia JF, Bushnell C, Boden-Albala B, et al; American Heart Association Stroke Council; Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Clinical Cardiology; Council on Functional Genomics and Translational Biology; Council on Hypertension.. Guidelines for the primary prevention of stroke: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Stroke. 2014;45(12):3754-3832. PMID: 25355838 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25355838.
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.
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.
Blood pressure often increases in stages. A person in her thirties may have mild to moderately elevated blood pressure readings. As she ages, blood pressure may continue to slowly rise. If someone develops high blood pressure before the age of 50, the risk of heart attack and stroke is greatly increased. If untreated, high blood pressure can reduce life expectancy by 10 or more years.
Low blood pressure is diagnosed by a doctor when they check your blood pressure with a sphygmomanometer. For people who experience low blood pressure without other symptoms, it may only require regular monitoring by a doctor during routine exams, and medical treatment may not be necessary. If certain signs suggest an underlying condition, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose a cause for your hypotension:
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association certainly grabbed the attention of us busy primary care physicians with the recent release of their updated blood pressure guidelines. These organizations had piqued interest by declaring the release date and labeling it as “highly anticipated.” I pooh-poohed all that drama, but upon reading through the 114-page executive summary PDF with 21 authors and almost a thousand references, I have to say, I am duly impressed.
High blood pressure is a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels, or arteries, at higher than normal pressures. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is when this force against the artery walls is too high. Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure if you have consistently high blood pressure readings.
Many expert groups recommend a slightly higher target of 150/90 mmHg for those over somewhere between 60 and 80 years of age.[99][100][101][105] The JNC-8 and American College of Physicians recommend the target of 150/90 mmHg for those over 60 years of age,[13][106] but some experts within these groups disagree with this recommendation.[107] Some expert groups have also recommended slightly lower targets in those with diabetes[99] or chronic kidney disease with protein loss in the urine,[108] but others recommend the same target as for the general population.[13][103] The issue of what is the best target and whether targets should differ for high risk individuals is unresolved,[109] although some experts propose more intensive blood pressure lowering than advocated in some guidelines.[110]
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.

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.
Measuring blood pressure in both the lying (supine) and standing positions usually is the first step in diagnosing low blood pressure. In patients with symptomatic low blood pressure, there often is a marked drop in blood pressure upon standing, and patients may even develop orthostatic symptoms. The heart rate often increases. The goal is to identify the cause of the low blood pressure. Sometimes the causes are readily apparent (such as loss of blood due to trauma, or sudden shock after receiving X-ray dyes containing iodine). At other times, the cause may be identified by testing:
Vasovagal syncope can be treated with several types of drugs such as beta blockers, for example, propanolol (Inderal, Inderal LA) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). Fludrocortisone (Florinef) (a drug that prevents dehydration by causing the kidney(s) to retain water) also may be used. A pacemaker can also be helpful when a patient fails drug therapy.
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