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A nurse takes your blood pressure at your annual physical. The numbers are recorded and the checkup continues. But do you know where on the blood pressure chart your levels are? Are they healthy? Too low? Too high, meaning you have hypertension? If you have high blood pressure or are heading in that direction, you should know that hypertension is among the primary enlarged heart causes, and a major risk factor for heart failure.
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.
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High blood pressure is classified as either primary (essential) high blood pressure or secondary high blood pressure. About 90–95% of cases are primary, defined as high blood pressure due to nonspecific lifestyle and genetic factors. Lifestyle factors that increase the risk include excess salt in the diet, excess body weight, smoking, and alcohol use. The remaining 5–10% of cases are categorized as secondary high blood pressure, defined as high blood pressure due to an identifiable cause, such as chronic kidney disease, narrowing of the kidney arteries, an endocrine disorder, or the use of birth control pills.
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.
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.
About This Image: Person receiving a blood pressure test. Medical research shows that as we age blood pressure rises slightly to accommodate an increased demand of oxygen and nutrients. It is completely natural for the first number (systolic) to be 100 plus our age. A recent study by a group of UCLA researchers came very close to corroborating Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure of 100 plus your age for men, subtracting 10 for women, and this is after this rule had been in use for five or more decades. Are we now being taught that Dr. Piette's guide for blood pressure is wrong merely for drug company profit?
In the 19th and 20th centuries, before effective pharmacological treatment for hypertension became possible, three treatment modalities were used, all with numerous side-effects: strict sodium restriction (for example the rice diet), sympathectomy (surgical ablation of parts of the sympathetic nervous system), and pyrogen therapy (injection of substances that caused a fever, indirectly reducing blood pressure).
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
Low blood pressure readings in healthy people without symptoms or organ damage need no treatment. A doctor should evalute all patients with symptoms that are possibly due to low blood pressure. Patients who have had a major drop in blood pressure from their usual levels even without the development of symptoms also should be evaluated. The doctor needs to identify the cause of the low blood pressure; remedies will depend on the cause. For example, if a medication is causing the low blood pressure, the dose of medication may have to be reduced or the medication stopped. Do not adjust medication dose on your own, and do not stop taking any medication without first consulting your doctor.
At the most basic level, hypotension can cause dizziness or blurry vision, which may increase the risk of falling or contribute to accidents. In more serious cases, it reduces the blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. This decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients being delivered to these organs and impairs their ability to carry out normal functions. Hypotension may also indicate a more serious underlying health condition.
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.
Normal blood pressure can differ substantially between breeds but hypertension in dogs is often diagnosed if systolic blood pressure is above 160 mm Hg particularly if this is associated with target organ damage. Inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system and calcium channel blockers are often used to treat hypertension in dogs, although other drugs may be indicated for specific conditions causing high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association, or AHA, explains that the early symptoms of high blood pressure that people tend to think about are largely mythical. You are unlikely to notice “classic” signs such as anxiety, insomnia, or flushing in your face. You could have blood spots in your eyes due to subconjunctival hemorrhage, but dizziness itself is not among the essential symptoms of high blood pressure.
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:
You are considered to have hypertension if your systolic blood pressure measurements are between 130 and 139 or your diastolic measurement falls between 80 and 89. At this level of blood pressure you may not have any symptoms. When blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher, a serious condition known as a malignant hypertension or hypertension crisis may occur. This can lead to stroke, kidney damage, heart attacks, or loss of consciousness. If you measure your blood pressure and it is this high, rest a few minutes and measure again. If it remains high, call 911.
Much is being made of the fact that the new definitions of high blood pressure will mean roughly half of all US citizens will be considered to have high blood pressure, but when you really look at the numbers, as cardiologists already have, not that many more people will actually be advised to take medications. Although the public has good reason to be suspicious of “big pharma,” that’s not what this is about.
James, Paul A.; Oparil, Suzanne; Carter, Barry L.; Cushman, William C.; Dennison-Himmelfarb, Cheryl; Handler, Joel; Lackland, Daniel T.; Lefevre, Michael L.; MacKenzie, Thomas D.; Ogedegbe, Olugbenga; Smith, Sidney C.; Svetkey, Laura P.; Taler, Sandra J.; Townsend, Raymond R.; Wright, Jackson T.; Narva, Andrew S.; Ortiz, Eduardo (18 December 2013). "2014 Evidence-Based Guideline for the Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults". JAMA. 311 (5): 507–20. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.284427. PMID 24352797.
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.
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.