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.
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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.
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Understanding the normal BP range with age can help the doctor and you to estimate your cardiovascular health. Blood pressure levels can fluctuate significantly from one reading to the next and it is important to remember that just one abnormally high reading does not signify that you have high blood pressure. Doctors usually use an average of multiple blood pressure readings taken over a period of several days to arrive at a diagnosis of high 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?
Blood pressure changes throughout the day and varies from person to person. Various factors affect blood pressure, including your body position, breathing rhythm, stress level, physical activity, medications, what you eat or drink, and the time of the day (blood pressure is usually lowest at night when you sleep and rises when you wake up). In healthy individuals, your body responds and adapts to these changes to keep your blood pressure within a normal range. This ensures that vital organs, such as your brain and kidneys, receive a constant blood flow and nutrient supply.
When discussing blood pressure issues, the healthcare professional may ask questions about past medical history, family history, and medication use, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, and food additives. Other questions may include lifestyle habits, including activity levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, and illegal drug use.
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, however most heart attacks start slowly with mild pain and discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. Shortness of breath may occur, as well as nausea, or lightheadedness. It is vital to get help immediately if any of these symptoms occur.
In hypertensive emergency, there is evidence of direct damage to one or more organs. The most affected organs include the brain, kidney, heart and lungs, producing symptoms which may include confusion, drowsiness, chest pain and breathlessness. In hypertensive emergency, the blood pressure must be reduced more rapidly to stop ongoing organ damage, however, there is a lack of randomized controlled trial evidence for this approach.
The value of routine screening for hypertension in children over the age of 3 years is debated. In 2004 the National High Blood Pressure Education Program recommended that children aged 3 years and older have blood pressure measurement at least once at every health care visit and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and American Academy of Pediatrics made a similar recommendation. However, the American Academy of Family Physicians supports the view of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that the available evidence is insufficient to determine the balance of benefits and harms of screening for hypertension in children and adolescents who do not have symptoms.
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.
Extremely high levels of blood pressure, i.e. systolic above 180 mm Hg or diastolic above 110 mm Hg requires immediate medical attention. Delayed treatment in such cases may result in various hypertensive emergencies like stroke, heart attack, hypertensive encephalopathy, malignant hypertension, aortic dissection, etc. These conditions may cause death.
Medications such as calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, and digoxin (Lanoxin) can slow the rate at which the heart contracts. Some elderly people are extremely sensitive to these medications since they are more likely to have diseased hearts and electrical conduction tissues. In some individuals, the heart rate can become dangerously slow even with small doses of these medications.
Weakened heart muscle can cause the heart to fail and reduce the amount of blood it pumps. One common cause of weakened heart muscle is the death of a large portion of the heart's muscle due to a single, large heart attack or repeated smaller heart attacks. Other examples of conditions that can weaken the ability of the heart to pump blood include medications toxic to the heart, infections of the muscle of the heart by viruses (myocarditis), and diseases of the heart's valves such as aortic stenosis that reduce the flow of blood from the heart and into the arteries.
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.
Postural hypotension can be treated with changes in diet such as increasing water and salt intake,* increasing intake of caffeinated beverages (because caffeine constricts blood vessels), using compression stockings to compress the leg veins and reduce the pooling of blood in the leg veins, and in some patients, the use of a medication called midodrine (ProAmatine). The problem with midodrine is that while it increases blood pressure in the upright position, the supine blood pressure may become too high, thus increasing the risk of strokes. Mayo Clinic researchers found that a medication used to treat muscle weakness in myasthenia gravis called pyridostigmine (Mestinon) increases upright blood pressure but not supine blood pressure. Pyridostigmine, an anticholinesterase medication, works on the autonomic nervous system, especially when a person is standing up. Side effects include minor abdominal cramping or increased frequency of bowel movements.
A hypertensive emergency, unlike the similar sounding hypertensive urgency, is characterized by serious, life-threatening complications. A hypertensive emergency means that the blood pressure is >180 mm Hg or the diastolic pressure is >120 mm Hg, and that end-organ damage is occurring. Signs and symptoms can include shortness of breath, anxiety, chest pain, irregular heart rate, confusion, or fainting.
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.