Low blood pressure (hypotension) is pressure so low it causes symptoms or signs due to the low flow of blood through the arteries and veins. When the flow of blood is too low to deliver enough oxygen and nutrients to vital organs such as the brain, heart, and kidney, the organs do not function normally and may be temporarily or permanently damaged.
The measurements must have been obtained from at least two careful readings on at least two different occasions. What does careful mean? The guidelines provide a six-step tutorial on how, exactly, to correctly measure a blood pressure, which, admittedly, is sorely needed. My patients often have their first blood pressure taken immediately after they have rushed in through downtown traffic, as they’re sipping a large caffeinated beverage. While we always knew this could result in a falsely elevated measurement, it is now officially poor clinical technique resulting in an invalid reading.
To make an official diagnosis of high blood pressure you will need to see your doctor. Often your blood pressure will be checked on at least two different visits, at different times of the day. Your doctor may ask you to keep a blood pressure log for a short time in order to see your overall blood pressure trends. If your blood pressure is consistently over 134/80, your doctor will work with you to determine the best regimen for treating your high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, most commonly occurs without any symptoms and has for this reason been referred to as the "silent killer." Uncomplicated hypertension can persist for years, even decades, without causing symptoms. However, when complications of the condition begin to develop due to damage to the vascular system, symptoms can occur. Symptoms of complicated hypertension (high blood pressure) can include dizziness, shortness of breath, headache, and blurred vision. Other possible symptoms are nosebleeds, blood in the urine, fatigue, chest pain, and a pounding sensation in the neck, chest, or ears.
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.
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.
Your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure 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.
Lap band (gastric banding) surgery, also referred to as laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding (LAGB) is a surgical procedure in which an adjustable belt is placed around the upper portion of the stomach. Candidates for lap band surgery are generally individuals with a body mass index over 40 kg/m2, or are more than 45 kilograms over their ideal body weight. Side effects, risks, and complications from lap band surgery should be discussed with a surgeon or physician prior to the operation.
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.
Patient-activated event recorder: If the episodes of bradycardia or tachycardia are infrequent, a 24-hour Holter recording may not capture these sporadic episodes. In this situation, a patient can wear a patient-activated event recorder for up to 4 weeks. The patient presses a button to start the recording when he or she senses the onset of an abnormal heart rhythm or symptoms possibly caused by low blood pressure. The doctor then analyzes the recordings later to identify the abnormal episodes.
As you age, prevention becomes even more important. Systolic pressure tends to creep up once you’re older than 50, and it’s far more important in predicting the risk of coronary heart disease and other conditions. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your overall health to help prevent the onset of hypertension.
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.]
Many expert groups recommend a slightly higher target of 150/90 mmHg for those over somewhere between 60 and 80 years of age. The JNC-8 and American College of Physicians recommend the target of 150/90 mmHg for those over 60 years of age, but some experts within these groups disagree with this recommendation. Some expert groups have also recommended slightly lower targets in those with diabetes or chronic kidney disease with protein loss in the urine, but others recommend the same target as for the general population. The issue of what is the best target and whether targets should differ for high risk individuals is unresolved, although some experts propose more intensive blood pressure lowering than advocated in some guidelines.
SOURCES: The Journal of the American Medical Association, May 21, 2003. Aram Chobanian, MD, dean, Boston University School of Medicine and chair of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Claude Lenfant, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health. Edward Roccella, PhD, MPH, coordinator of the National High Blood Pressure Education Program at NHLBI. John Laragh, MD, Cardiovascular Hypertension Center at New York Hospital/Cornell University Medical Center and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Hypertension. WebMD Medical News: "Diuretics Best for High Blood Pressure."
Angiotensin receptor blockers prevent the actions of angiotensin II on the arteries. This means the arteries stay more open and blood pressure is lowered. ARBs can take a few weeks to work. Side effects can include dizziness, muscle cramps, insomnia, and elevated potassium levels. As with ACE inhibitors, women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should not take ARBs.
When blood pressure is measured, there are two numbers for each reading: for example, "120 over 80" is written as 120/80. This is because each heartbeat sends a pressure wave through the bloodstream. The higher number (systolic blood pressure) is the peak of the wave, when your heart contracts (the loud "thump" when you listen to your heartbeat). The lower number (diastolic blood pressure) is the lower "dip" or trough of the wave, when your heart relaxes.
On physical examination, hypertension may be associated with the presence of changes in the optic fundus seen by ophthalmoscopy. The severity of the changes typical of hypertensive retinopathy is graded from I to IV; grades I and II may be difficult to differentiate. The severity of the retinopathy correlates roughly with the duration or the severity of the hypertension.
A recent study compared diuretics with other types of blood pressure-lowering medications and found the diuretics were just as effective as the newer drugs in preventing heart attack or death due to heart disease. The new guidelines say these inexpensive drugs should be used as first-line treatment for most people who have high blood pressure without other risk factors such as heart failure, history of heart attack, diabetes, or kidney disease.
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.
Blood pressure control is a lifelong challenge. Hypertension can progress through the years, and treatments that worked earlier in life may need to be adjusted over time. Blood pressure control may involve gradually making lifestyle changes like diet, weight loss, exercise, and possibly taking medicine if necessary. In some situations, medications may be recommended immediately. As with many diseases, you and your doctor should work together to find the treatment plan that works for you.
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.