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:
These guidelines help guide healthcare practices, and can be related to patient reimbursement and healthcare coverage. The tenth revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, or ICD-10, is the set of codes used to designate specific health conditions and allow for reimbursement through health insurance programs.
We tend not to think about our blood pressure — it’s a normal function of our heart working regularly. However, when blood pressure stays high over an extended period it means the heart is working harder than it should. Since hypertension usually doesn’t have symptoms, we don’t know what is happening unless we measure it. Accurately measuring blood pressure provides a glimpse into what’s happening inside our bodies without needing expensive diagnostic tests.
An exception to this is those with very high blood pressure readings especially when there is poor organ function. Initial assessment of the hypertensive people should include a complete history and physical examination. With the availability of 24-hour ambulatory blood pressure monitors and home blood pressure machines, the importance of not wrongly diagnosing those who have white coat hypertension has led to a change in protocols. In the United Kingdom, current best practice is to follow up a single raised clinic reading with ambulatory measurement, or less ideally with home blood pressure monitoring over the course of 7 days. The United States Preventive Services Task Force also recommends getting measurements outside of the healthcare environment. Pseudohypertension in the elderly or noncompressibility artery syndrome may also require consideration. This condition is believed to be due to calcification of the arteries resulting in abnormally high blood pressure readings with a blood pressure cuff while intra arterial measurements of blood pressure are normal. Orthostatic hypertension is when blood pressure increases upon standing.
During relaxation of the heart (diastole), the left ventricle of the heart fills with blood returning from the lungs. The left ventricle then contracts and pumps blood into the arteries (systole). The blood pressure in the arteries during contraction of the ventricle (systolic pressure) is higher because blood is being actively ejected into the arteries. It is lower during relaxation of the ventricle (diastolic pressure) when no blood is being ejected into the arteries. The pulse we feel when we place our fingers over an artery is caused by the contraction of the left ventricle and the ejection of blood.
Hypertension is rarely accompanied by symptoms, and its identification is usually through screening, or when seeking healthcare for an unrelated problem. Some people with high blood pressure report headaches (particularly at the back of the head and in the morning), as well as lightheadedness, vertigo, tinnitus (buzzing or hissing in the ears), altered vision or fainting episodes. These symptoms, however, might be related to associated anxiety rather than the high blood pressure itself.
Hypertension with certain specific additional signs and symptoms may suggest secondary hypertension, i.e. hypertension due to an identifiable cause. For example, Cushing's syndrome frequently causes truncal obesity, glucose intolerance, moon face, a hump of fat behind the neck/shoulder (referred to as a buffalo hump), and purple abdominal stretch marks. Hyperthyroidism frequently causes weight loss with increased appetite, fast heart rate, bulging eyes, and tremor. Renal artery stenosis (RAS) may be associated with a localized abdominal bruit to the left or right of the midline (unilateral RAS), or in both locations (bilateral RAS). Coarctation of the aorta frequently causes a decreased blood pressure in the lower extremities relative to the arms, or delayed or absent femoral arterial pulses. Pheochromocytoma may cause abrupt ("paroxysmal") episodes of hypertension accompanied by headache, palpitations, pale appearance, and excessive sweating.
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.
However, the guidelines stress that, for most of the newly classified patients, the recommended treatment will be lifestyle modifications, such as weight loss and changes in diet and exercise levels, as opposed to medications. Only a small increase in the percentage of U.S. adults receiving blood pressure medications — about 2 percent — is expected, the authors said.
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.
The first chemical for hypertension, sodium thiocyanate, was used in 1900 but had many side effects and was unpopular. Several other agents were developed after the Second World War, the most popular and reasonably effective of which were tetramethylammonium chloride, hexamethonium, hydralazine, and reserpine (derived from the medicinal plant Rauwolfia serpentina). None of these were well tolerated. A major breakthrough was achieved with the discovery of the first well-tolerated orally available agents. The first was chlorothiazide, the first thiazide diuretic and developed from the antibiotic sulfanilamide, which became available in 1958. Subsequently, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, and renin inhibitors were developed as antihypertensive agents.
An elevated blood pressure reading means that your blood pressure falls just above the normal level, corresponding to a systolic pressure between 120 and 129 or a diastolic pressure of 80 or less. The new guidelines eliminate the previous category of prehypertension. About one-fourth of Americans have elevated levels and they have two times the risk of heart disease compared with those who have lower blood pressures. Lifestyle changes can help many people with prehypertension lower their blood pressure.
Physical changes: If something in your body changes, you may begin experiencing issues throughout your body. High blood pressure may be one of those issues. For example, it’s thought that changes in your kidney function due to aging may upset the body’s natural balance of salts and fluid. This change may cause your body’s blood pressure to increase.
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).
In Europe hypertension occurs in about 30-45% of people as of 2013. In 1995 it was estimated that 43 million people (24% of the population) in the United States had hypertension or were taking antihypertensive medication. By 2004 this had increased to 29% and further to 32% (76 million US adults) by 2017. In 2017, with the change in definitions for hypertension, 46% of people in the United States are affected. African-American adults in the United States have among the highest rates of hypertension in the world at 44%. It is also more common in Filipino Americans and less common in US whites and Mexican Americans. Differences in hypertension rates are multifactorial and under study.
Peter, I’ve been using a blood pressure meter for nearly 30 years, so my response is based on my personal experience and information I’ve acquired over the years. First, I suggest that you take your meter to the doctor and have them check several readings of your meter against theirs. For example, If your meter consistently shows it’s 10 points lower than the doctor’s, just delete the 10 points from your meter reading (have them check both numbers so you can adjust both as necessary). Also, it’s common that many doctor’s offices take your blood pressure incorrectly (you should actually sit still for 5 minutes, with your feet on the floor and the cuff at the same level as your heart) . Some of us have”white coat” hypertension, so you may always be elevated at the doctor’s office. If you are a large man, you (and your doctor’s office) may need to use a larger cuff as the wrong size of cuff can affect your reading. Also, I spoke with customer service at one of the companies that makes many of the home & professional meters, and she told me that the automated machines are not very accurate if you have kidney disease or heart failure (I have both). Ask the doctor’s staff to always use the manual system and it will be more accurate than those noisy automatic ones.
This study is assessing whether a low-sodium and low-calorie eating pattern, along with aerobic exercise, can improve blood pressure in patients who do not respond to high blood pressure medicines. To participate you must be at least 35 years and have high blood pressure that does not respond to medicines. Please note that this study is in Durham, North Carolina.
If your blood pressure is above the normal range for up to 5 readings (taken at different visits), your doctor will likely diagnose you with high blood pressure. Sometimes the doctor may diagnose you after a fewer number of readings, depending on how high above normal your blood pressure is and if you have other medical conditions. Blood pressure tends to be at its highest during exercise, physical work, or stress, and lowest during sleep. Everyone can have a temporary increase in blood pressure at one time or another, which is why it's important to take multiple readings.
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:
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your healthcare provider or 911 immediately. Any mention of products or services is not meant as a guarantee, endorsement, or recommendation of the products, services, or companies. Reliance on any information provided is solely at your own risk. Please discuss any options with your healthcare provider.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2017; pii: S0735-1097(17)41519-1. PMID: 29146535 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29146535.