The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association certainly grabbed the attention of us busy primary care physicians with the recent release of their updated blood pressure guidelines. These organizations had piqued interest by declaring the release date and labeling it as “highly anticipated.” I pooh-poohed all that drama, but upon reading through the 114-page executive summary PDF with 21 authors and almost a thousand references, I have to say, I am duly impressed.
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.
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Primary (or essential) hypertension is when the cause is unknown. The majority of hypertension cases are primary. When there is an underlying problem such as kidney disease or hormonal disorders that can cause hypertension, it is called secondary hypertension. When it is possible to correct the underlying cause, high blood pressure usually improves and may even return to normal.
Some high blood pressure medications can, in fact, lead to weight gain. Common offenders include older beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal) and atenolol (Tenormin). There could be several reasons for this -- including the fact that the medications can make patients feel tired and thus less likely to exercise. Minoxidil tablets (Loniten) -- used only when other antihypertensive medications have failed -- can also cause weight gain. Weight gain is also listed as a common side effect of doxazosin (Cardura). Diuretics are more likely to cause weight loss.

NHLBI Expert Panel on Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents. We have supported the development of guidelines based on up-to-date research to evaluate and manage risk of heart disease in children and adolescents, including high blood pressure. Visit Expert Panel on Integrated Guidelines for Cardiovascular Health and Risk Reduction in Children and Adolescents for more information.


It's tough to get a reading on your average blood pressure if you only measure it at the doctor's office. Buy a home monitoring kit at your local pharmacy. Take two readings a day, morning and night, for a few days. Repeat these steps a few times a year, and share the results with your doctor. Better understanding of your blood pressure is the first step to preventing heart disease and stroke.

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.


High blood pressure is the most common chronic medical problem prompting visits to primary health care providers in USA. The American Heart Association estimated the direct and indirect costs of high blood pressure in 2010 as $76.6 billion.[144] In the US 80% of people with hypertension are aware of their condition, 71% take some antihypertensive medication, but only 48% of people aware that they have hypertension adequately control it.[144] Adequate management of hypertension can be hampered by inadequacies in the diagnosis, treatment, or control of high blood pressure.[164] Health care providers face many obstacles to achieving blood pressure control, including resistance to taking multiple medications to reach blood pressure goals. People also face the challenges of adhering to medicine schedules and making lifestyle changes. Nonetheless, the achievement of blood pressure goals is possible, and most importantly, lowering blood pressure significantly reduces the risk of death due to heart disease and stroke, the development of other debilitating conditions, and the cost associated with advanced medical care.[165][166]
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.
On physical examination, hypertension may be associated with the presence of changes in the optic fundus seen by ophthalmoscopy.[22] The severity of the changes typical of hypertensive retinopathy is graded from I to IV; grades I and II may be difficult to differentiate.[22] The severity of the retinopathy correlates roughly with the duration or the severity of the hypertension.[20]
Palma Gamiz JL, et al. Iberian Multicenter Imidapril Study on Hypertension: A twelve-week, Multicenter, Randomized, Double-blind, Parallel-Group, Noninferiority Trial of the Antihypertensive Efficacy and Tolerability of Imidapril and Candesartan in Adult Patients With Mild to Moderate Essential Hypertension: the Iberian Multicenter Imidapril Study on Hypertension (IMISH).
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Pulmonary embolism is a condition in which a blood clot in a vein (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) breaks off and travels to the heart and eventually the lung. A large blood clot can block the flow of blood into the left ventricle from the lungs and severely diminish the blood returning to the heart for pumping. Pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening emergency.
^ Jump up to: a b c Giuseppe, Mancia; Fagard, R; Narkiewicz, K; Redon, J; Zanchetti, A; Bohm, M; Christiaens, T; Cifkova, R; De Backer, G; Dominiczak, A; Galderisi, M; Grobbee, DE; Jaarsma, T; Kirchhof, P; Kjeldsen, SE; Laurent, S; Manolis, AJ; Nilsson, PM; Ruilope, LM; Schmieder, RE; Sirnes, PA; Sleight, P; Viigimaa, M; Waeber, B; Zannad, F; Redon, J; Dominiczak, A; Narkiewicz, K; Nilsson, PM; et al. (July 2013). "2013 ESH/ESC Guidelines for the management of arterial hypertension: The Task Force for the management of arterial hypertension of the European Society of Hypertension (ESH) and of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC)". European Heart Journal. 34 (28): 2159–219. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/eht151. PMID 23771844.
Adrenal insufficiency, for example, due to Addison's disease, can cause low blood pressure. Addison's disease is a disorder in which the adrenal glands (small glands next to the kidneys) are destroyed. The destroyed adrenal glands can no longer produce sufficient adrenal hormones (specifically cortisol) necessary to maintain normal bodily functions. Cortisol has many functions, one of which is to maintain blood pressure and the function of the heart. Addison's disease is characterized by weight loss, muscle weakness, fatigue, low blood pressure, and, sometimes, darkening of the skin.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is important that you continue your treatment plan. Following your treatment plan, getting regular follow-up care, and learning how to monitor your condition at home are important. Let your doctor know if you are planning to become pregnant. These steps can help prevent or delay complications that high blood pressure can cause. Your doctor may adjust your treatment plan as needed to lower or control your high blood pressure.

Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
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:
Hypertension is the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide.[149] It increases the risk of ischemic heart disease,[150] strokes,[23] peripheral vascular disease,[151] and other cardiovascular diseases, including heart failure, aortic aneurysms, diffuse atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, atrial fibrillation, and pulmonary embolism.[11][23] Hypertension is also a risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia.[23] Other complications include hypertensive retinopathy and hypertensive nephropathy.[27]
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:
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.
^ Jump up to: a b Go, AS; Bauman, M; King, SM; Fonarow, GC; Lawrence, W; Williams, KA; Sanchez, E (15 November 2013). "An Effective Approach to High Blood Pressure Control: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention". Hypertension. 63 (4): 878–85. doi:10.1161/HYP.0000000000000003. PMID 24243703. Archived from the original on 20 November 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
One side effect of diuretics is a loss of potassium, which is carried out of the body in urine along with the sodium. Potassium is needed for proper muscular movement and a deficiency of this mineral can result in fatigue, weakness, leg cramps, and even problems with the heart. So often, patients on traditional diuretics will be advised to take their medication with a potassium-rich food, such as orange juice or a banana, or they'll be prescribed a potassium supplement.

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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