Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal blood pressure ranges up to 120/80 mm Hg ("120 over 80"), but blood pressure can rise and fall with exercise, rest, or emotions. The first number (120 in this example) is the pressure when the heart pushes blood out to the rest of the body. It is called the systolic pressure. The second number (80 in this example) is the pressure when the heart rests between beats (diastolic pressure).
Systolic high blood pressure is more common as people get older.
High blood pressure increases your risk of cardiovascular disease (heart or blood vessel disease). When your blood pressure is high, your heart has to work harder just to pump a normal amount of blood through your body. The higher pressure in your arteries may cause them to weaken and bleed, resulting in a stroke. Over time, blood vessels may become hardened. This often occurs as people age. High blood pressure speeds this process. Blood vessel damage is bad because hardened or narrowed arteries may be unable to supply the amount of blood the body's organs need. The higher artery pressure may lead to atherosclerosis, in which deposits of cholesterol, fatty substances, and blood cells clog up an artery. Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of heart attacks. It can also cause strokes.
The added workload on the heart causes thickening of the heart muscle. Over time, the thickening damages the heart muscle so that it can no longer pump normally. This can lead to a disease called heart failure. Your kidneys or eyes may also be damaged. The longer you have high blood pressure and the higher it is, the more likely it is you will develop problems.
There are no clear causes of essential hypertension. However, many different factors can increase blood pressure, such as:
Other important factors include:
Some medicines increase blood pressure. Stress and drinking caffeine can make blood pressure go up for a while, but the long-term effects aren't yet clear.
One of the sneaky things about high blood pressure is that you can have it for a long time without symptoms. That's why it is important for you have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.
If you do have symptoms, they may be:
Although it happens rarely, the first symptom may be a stroke.
Because it is such a common problem, blood pressure is checked at most healthcare visits. High blood pressure is usually discovered during one of these visits. If your blood pressure is high, you will be asked to return for follow-up checks. If repeated checks of your blood pressure show that it is higher than 140/90, you have hypertension.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your life situation, what you eat and drink, and if high blood pressure runs in your family. You may have urine and blood tests. Your provider may order a chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram (ECG). You may be asked to use a portable blood-pressure measuring device, which will take your pressure at different times during day and night. All of this testing is done to look for a possible cause of your high blood pressure.
For most people, the goal is to reduce the blood pressure to less than 140/90. If you have diabetes or kidney disease, the goal is less than 130/80 mm Hg.
If your blood pressure is above normal (prehypertension), you may be able to bring it down to a normal level without medicine. Weight loss, changes in your diet, and exercise may be the only treatment you need. If you also have diabetes, you may need additional treatment.
If these lifestyle changes do not lower your blood pressure enough, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine. Some of the types of medicines that can help are diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and vasodilators. These medicines work in different ways. Many people need to take 2 or more medicines to bring their blood pressure down to a healthy level.
When you start taking medicine, it is important to:
It may not be possible to know at first which drug or mix of drugs will work best for you. It may take several weeks or months to find the best treatment for you.
You may need treatment for high blood pressure for the rest of your life. However, proper treatment can control your blood pressure and help prevent or delay problems, such as stroke. If you already have some complications, lowering your blood pressure may make their effects less severe.
Your treatment will be much more effective if you follow these guidelines:
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.