As blood travels throughout your body, it presses against the walls of your blood vessels, just like water in a hose or air in a tire. This is called blood pressure. When your heart beats (contracts), squeezing blood out and pumping it into your arteries, blood pressure peaks. This is called your systolic pressure. Between heartbeats, when your heart relaxes and blood flows back into it, your blood pressure is lower. This is your diastolic pressure.
Hypertension may not produce any symptoms, even if you have had it for years. That's why it is sometimes referred to as a "silent killer." It's estimated that 1 out of every 5 people with high blood pressure aren't aware that they have this major risk factor for strokes and heart attacks. If not properly treated, high blood pressure can damage the heart and circulation, lungs, brain, and kidneys without causing noticeable symptoms. Symptoms of high blood pressure may be present in those who have an extremely high blood pressure. Symptoms of extremely high blood pressure include the following:
As you get older, high blood pressure, especially isolated systolic hypertension, is more common and can increase your risk of serious health problems. Treatment, especially if you have other medical conditions, requires ongoing evaluation and discussions with your doctor to strike the best balance of reducing risks and maintaining a good quality of life.
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.
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.
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:
The guidelines, from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), now define high blood pressure as 130 mm Hg or higher for the systolic blood pressure measurement, or 80 mm Hg or higher for the diastolic blood pressure measurement. (Systolic is the top number, and diastolic is the bottom number, in a blood pressure reading.) Previously, high blood pressure was defined as 140 mm Hg or higher for the systolic measurement and 90 or higher for the diastolic measurement.
Recognizing heart attack symptoms and signs can help save your life or that of someone you love. Some heart attack symptoms, including left arm pain and chest pain, are well known but other, more nonspecific symptoms may be associated with a heart attack. Nausea, vomiting, malaise, indigestion, sweating, shortness of breath, and fatigue may signal a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms and signs in women may differ from those in men.
Keeping track of your blood pressure is important. Your doctor can help you learn how to check your blood pressure at home. Each time you check your own blood pressure, record your numbers and the date. Send or take the log of your blood pressure readings with you for appointments with your doctor. Return to Screening for reminders on how to prepare for blood pressure testing.
Anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock) is a potentially fatal allergic reaction to medications such as penicillin, intravenous iodine used in some X-ray studies, foods such as peanuts, or bee stings (insect stings). In addition to a severe drop in blood pressure, individuals may also experience hives and wheezing due to constriction of the airways, and a swollen throat, which causes difficulty breathing. The shock is caused by enlargement of blood-containing blood vessels and escape of water from the blood into the tissues.
Remember that registered users of My HealtheVet can track their blood pressure as part of their Personal Health Record. When you are logged in, the Track Health "Vitals and Readings" section lets you enter your own systolic and diastolic numbers. You can also print out your data as part of your Blue Button report using "Vitals and Readings, Self Reported."
ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors are another class of antihypertensive drugs. They reduce the body's levels of angiotensin II, a substance that narrows blood vessels. This means that arteries are more open (dilated) and the blood pressure is lower. ACE inhibitors can be used alone, or with other medications such as diuretics. Side effects of ACE inhibitors can include skin rash, dry cough, dizziness, and elevated potassium levels. Women who are pregnant, planning to get pregnant, or breastfeeding should not take ACE inhibitors.
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.
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.
Exercise is another lifestyle factor that can lower blood pressure. It's recommended that adults get about 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. This can include cardiovascular exercises such as walking, bicycling, gardening, or other aerobic exercise. Muscle-strengthening activities are recommended at least twice a week and stretching makes you more flexible and helps prevent injuries. Check with your doctor if you are currently inactive and want to start exercising. Make exercise fun by doing activities you enjoy or find an exercise buddy to join you!
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.
"The implications and potential benefits of such healthier lifestyles could be great, particularly since about 22% of the adult population falls into the prehypertensive category," says Chobanian, who is also dean of the Boston University School of Medicine. "In fact, the blood pressure effects of weight reduction or adoption of the DASH eating plan can be comparable to those achieved with any single blood pressure medication."
High blood pressure is a common and dangerous condition. Having high blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your blood vessels is higher than it should be. But you can take steps to control your blood pressure and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. About 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 75 million people—have high blood pressure.1 Only about half (54%) of these people have their high blood pressure under control.1 Many youth are also being diagnosed with high blood pressure.2 This common condition increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.3 Get more quick facts about high blood pressure, or learn more about high blood pressure in the United States.
We stimulate high-impact research. Our Trans-Omics for Precision Medicine (TOPMed) Program includes participants with high blood pressure, which may help us understand how genes contribute to differences in disease severity and how patients respond to treatment. The NHLBI Strategic Vision highlights ways we may support research over the next decade, including new efforts for studying high blood pressure.
Allergic reaction (anaphylaxis): Anaphylactic shock is a sometimes-fatal allergic reaction that can occur in people who are highly sensitive to drugs such as penicillin, to certain foods such as peanuts or to bee or wasp stings. This type of shock is characterized by breathing problems, hives, itching, a swollen throat and a sudden, dramatic fall in blood pressure.