Do not attempt to lower extremely elevated blood pressure in yourself or someone else. While the goal is to reduce blood pressure before additional complications develop, blood pressure should be reduced over the course of hours to days, depending on severity. It is important not to lower blood pressure too quickly, because rapid blood pressure reductions can cut off the supply of blood to the brain, leading to brain damage or death.
You will work with your provider to come up with a treatment plan. It may include only the lifestyle changes. These changes, such as heart-healthy eating and exercise, can be very effective. But sometimes the changes do not control or lower your high blood pressure. Then you may need to take medicine. There are different types of blood pressure medicines. Some people need to take more than one type.
Vasovagal reaction is a common condition in which a healthy person temporarily develops low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and sometimes fainting. A vasovagal reaction typically is brought on by emotions of fear or pain such as having blood drawn, starting an intravenous infusion, or by gastrointestinal upset. Vasovagal reactions are caused by activity of the involuntary (autonomic) nervous system, especially the vagus nerve, which releases hormones that slow the heart and widen the blood vessels. The vagus nerve also controls digestive tract function and senses activity in the digestive system. Thus, some people can have a vasovagal reaction from straining at a bowel movement or vomiting.
Preeclampsia is elevated blood pressure and the leakage of protein into the urine by the kidneys. Preeclampsia can be dangerous to both mother and baby. High blood pressure during pregnancy may lead to decreased blood flow to the placenta, placental abruption, premature delivery, or future cardiovascular disease. After the baby is born, high blood pressure during pregnancy usually returns to normal levels.
First-line medications for hypertension include thiazide-diuretics, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). These medications may be used alone or in combination (ACE inhibitors and ARBs are not recommended for use in combination); the latter option may serve to minimize counter-regulatory mechanisms that act to restore blood pressure values to pre-treatment levels. Most people require more than one medication to control their hypertension. Medications for blood pressure control should be implemented by a stepped care approach when target levels are not reached.
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
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.
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.