Blood pressure is given as a reading of two numbers, such as 110/70. The higher number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart beats. The diastolic, or lower number shows the pressure between the heartbeats, while the relaxed heart is refilling with blood. Normal blood pressure readings are lower than 120/80. The cause of most hypertension is unknown. Occasionally, conditions of the kidney or adrenal gland are the cause of high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, a problem doesn’t always announce itself with a fanfare of trumpets. Even the highest blood pressure can be entirely asymptomatic. Similarly, low blood pressure also known as hypotension can occur in your patient despite no symptoms seemingly being present. This is particularly true if the patient is lying still in an unmonitored bed.
An electrocardiogram is known by the acronyms "ECG" or "EKG" more commonly used for this non-invasive procedure to record the electrical activity of the heart. An EKG generally is performed as part of a routine physical exam, part of a cardiac exercise stress test, or part of the evaluation of symptoms. Symptoms evaluated include palpitations, fainting, shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, or chest pain.
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.
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.
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.
It occurs more often in older people who are taking a lot of medication. However, it can cause symptoms in younger people. There may be underlying medical conditions such as joint hypermobility syndrome, diabetes, parkinson’s disease, addison’s disease or autonomic failure. Dehydration, hunger, low body weight and deconditioning (being out of shape/unfit) can reduce blood pressure.
The primary symptoms of malignant hypertension is a blood pressure of 180/120 or higher and signs of organ damage. Other symptoms of malignant hypertension include bleeding and swelling of blood vessels in the retina, anxiety, nosebleeds, severe headache, and shortness of breath. Malignant hypertension may cause brain swelling, but this symptom is very rare.
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.
As you get older, high blood pressure, especially isolated systolic hypertension, is more common and can increase your risk of serious health problems. Treatment, especially if you have other medical conditions, requires ongoing evaluation and discussions with your doctor to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.