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.
Your doctor can help you measure and track your blood pressure to confirm whether it’s too high. You may need to start taking medications if your blood pressure doesn’t improve after one month of following a healthy lifestyle, especially if you’re already at high risk for heart disease. If you’re at lower risk, your doctor may want to follow up in three to six months after you’ve adopted more healthy habits.
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.
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.
Once the diagnosis of hypertension has been made, healthcare providers should attempt to identify the underlying cause based on risk factors and other symptoms, if present. Secondary hypertension is more common in preadolescent children, with most cases caused by kidney disease. Primary or essential hypertension is more common in adolescents and has multiple risk factors, including obesity and a family history of hypertension. Laboratory tests can also be performed to identify possible causes of secondary hypertension, and to determine whether hypertension has caused damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys. Additional tests for diabetes and high cholesterol levels are usually performed because these conditions are additional risk factors for the development of heart disease and may require treatment.
“While we always knew this could result in a falsely elevated measurement, it is now officially poor clinical technique resulting in an invalid reading.” So what? Does that mean that someone’s actually going to visit clinics all over the US to make sure that BPs are taken several times during the visit? Is that going to be added to the skin inspections (that aren’t done by the health care providers I have access to) done at every “wellness” exam? And the questions regarding mental health/depression that aren’t asked that are “now required”?
Stress leads to temporary elevations of blood pressure, but there is no proof that stress causes ongoing high blood pressure. Stress may have an indirect effect on blood pressure since it can influence other risk factors for heart disease. People who are under stress tend to engage more in unhealthy habits like poor nutrition, alcohol use, and smoking, all of which can play a role in the development of high blood pressure and heart disease.
Genetics plays a role in hypertension, and much of essential hypertension could ultimately turn out to be genetic in origin. Genes are believed to have approximately 30 percent to 50 percent impact on blood pressure. Specific genes have not been identified as responsible for hypertension, however. This may be due to the fact that there are many genes that interact together to influence blood pressure, with some of these genetic variants being more common than others.
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.
Heart block: Heart block occurs when the specialized tissues that transmit electrical current in the heart are damaged by heart attacks, degeneration from atherosclerosis, and medications. Heart block prevents some or all of the electrical signals from reaching parts of the heart, and this prevents the heart from contracting as well as it otherwise would.
Unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure is defined primarily by signs and symptoms of low blood flow and not by a specific blood pressure number. Some individuals routinely may have blood pressure numbers of 90/50 with no symptoms and therefore do not have low blood pressure. However, others who normally have higher blood pressures may develop symptoms of low blood pressure if their blood pressure drops to 100/60.
About This Image: Chart showing potential causes of low blood pressure The risk of low and high blood pressure commonly increases as a person ages due in part to changes during the aging process. The flow of blood to a person's heart muscle and brain declines as a person ages, many times as a result of plaque buildup in their blood vessels. Approximately 10-20% of people over the age of 65 experience postural hypotension. While the causes of low blood pressure may not always be clear, it might be associated with things such as:
3. Implement strategies to lower inflammation. Several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies connect high blood pressure with chronic inflammation, a driving force for nearly every disease on the planet. Lowering inflammation starts with what you put on your fork. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught seafood (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), freshly ground flax and chia seeds, spices like turmeric, and plenty of colorful plant foods. Good sleep, stress management, exercise, and the right nutrients can also help lower inflammation.
Recent updates to guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology changed the definition of high blood pressure or hypertension for most people. High blood pressure is now generally defined as 130 or higher for the first number, or 80 or higher for the second number (previously it was 140/90). However, there are important considerations for older adults in deciding whether to start treatment for high blood pressure, including other health conditions and overall fitness. If your blood pressure is above 130/80, your doctor will evaluate your health to determine what treatment is needed to balance risks and benefits in your particular situation.
Your doctor may suggest that you check your blood pressure at home. The easiest way to do this is to use a digital blood pressure monitor. You can get a monitor from your local drug store, hospital, clinic or online. Your doctor can help you find a monitor that is right for you and show you how to use it. Many pharmacies and grocery stores also have in-store monitors that you can use for free.
After menopause, however, blood pressure increases in women to levels even higher than in men. Hormone replacement therapy in most cases does not significantly reduce blood pressure in postmenopausal women, suggesting that the loss of estrogens may not be the only component involved in the higher blood pressure in women after menopause. In contrast, androgens may decrease only slightly, if at all, in postmenopausal women.
Hypertensive Crisis This is an occurrence of high blood pressure that requires medical attention. If you have a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If it is consistently this high, contact your doctor immediately. If blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness and weakness, change in vision, and difficulty speaking, you may have organ damage and should call 911. (4)
Sodium (salt) sensitivity: Some people have high sensitivity to sodium (salt), and their blood pressure increases if they use salt. Reducing sodium intake tends to lower their blood pressure. Americans consume 10-15 times more sodium than they need. Fast foods and processed foods contain particularly high amounts of sodium. Many over-the-counter medicines also contain large amounts of sodium. Read food labels and learn about salt content in foods and other products as a healthy first step to reducing salt intake. Fast food restaurants also make the salt and calorie content of their food available to consumers at their restaurants,
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.
To control or lower high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend that you adopt heart-healthy lifestyle changes, such as heart-healthy eating patterns like the DASH eating plan, alone or with medicines. Controlling or lowering blood pressure can also help prevent or delay high blood pressure complications, such as chronic kidney disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and possibly vascular dementia.
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.
When blood pressure is not sufficient to deliver enough blood to the organs of the body, the organs do not work properly and can be temporarily or permanently damaged. Symptoms of low blood pressure caused by conditions or diseases depend upon the specific cause of the low blood pressure. For example, if insufficient blood flows to the brain, brain cells do not receive enough oxygen and nutrients, and a person can feel lightheaded, dizzy, or even faint.
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.
A 2015 review of several studies found that restoring blood vitamin D levels by using supplements (more than 1,000 IU per day) reduced blood pressure in hypertensive individuals when they had existing vitamin D deficiency. The results also demonstrated a correlation of chronically low vitamin D levels with a higher chance of becoming hypertensive. Supplementation with vitamin D over 18 months in normotensive individuals with vitamin D deficiency did not significantly affect blood pressure.
When the systolic pressure drops below 90 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure falls below 60 mm Hg, this is categorized as low blood pressure. Some people may have low pressure all the time and this may be normal for them. If they do not experience any other signs or symptoms, medical treatment may not be necessary for them. Low blood pressure becomes a concern when it is accompanied by noticeable symptoms, such as dizziness, fainting and, in severe cases, shock. When this occurs, people should seek medical attention to determine if an underlying condition may be responsible for their hypotension.
^ Qaseem, A; Wilt, TJ; Rich, R; Humphrey, LL; Frost, J; Forciea, MA; Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians and the Commission on Health of the Public and Science of the American Academy of Family, Physicians. (21 March 2017). "Pharmacologic Treatment of Hypertension in Adults Aged 60 Years or Older to Higher Versus Lower Blood Pressure Targets: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians". Annals of Internal Medicine. 166 (6): 430–437. doi:10.7326/m16-1785. PMID 28135725.
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.
Before measuring your blood pressure, do not smoke, drink caffeinated beverages, or exercise for at least 30 minutes before the test. Rest for at least five minutes before the measurements and sit still with your back straight and supported. Feet should be flat on the floor and not crossed. Your arm should also be supported on a flat surface like a table with the upper arm at heart level.
The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
However, sometimes a high reading can occur temporarily and then your numbers will return to normal. If your blood pressure measures at this level, your doctor will likely take a second reading after a few minutes have passed. A second high reading indicates that you’ll need treatment either as soon as possible or immediately depending on whether or not you have any of the symptoms described above.
Factors that increase your blood pressure can cause elevated levels. Medications such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs may cause a temporary rise in blood pressure. The buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis) can also lead to prehypertension. Other conditions that may lead to prehypertension include the following:
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.]
Blood tests may be done to assess risk factors for heart disease and stroke as well as looking for complications of hypertension. These include complete blood count (CBC), electrolytes, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), and creatinine and GFR (glomerular filtration rate) to measure kidney function. A fasting lipid profile will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. If appropriate, blood tests may be considered to look for an underlying cause of high blood pressure (secondary hypertension)including abnormal thyroid or adrenal gland function.
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.