High Blood Pressure 101
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a “silent killer” that can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, and vascular dementia. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.13 billion people around the world are affected.
What is high blood pressure?
The heart pumps constantly to transport blood around the body. Blood pressure is the constant force blood exerts on the blood vessels’ walls while it is traveling throughout the body. When the force against the blood vessels becomes too great, it becomes a condition called high blood pressure or hypertension.
What are the dangers of high blood pressure?
The force exerted by high blood pressure causes damages to blood vessels throughout the body. When the delicate blood vessels in the eyes or the kidneys are damaged, this can lead to vision loss or kidney failure.
The damages to the blood vessels also make them narrower, less elastic, and easier to clog, which can increase the likelihood of a stroke or an aneurysm.
High blood pressure creates a condition that makes it easier for blood supply to be cut off. Anytime blood supply is cut off or limited from a part of the body, such as the heart, the brain, and the genitals, that body part can malfunction or become significantly damaged. People with high BP tend to have a higher risk of heart attack, dementia, and sexual dysfunction.
Because high BP can make the arteries narrower and less elastic, the heart needs to work harder to supply blood, which can lead to an increased risk of heart failure.
The American Heart Association states that nearly half of all American adults have hypertension, but many don’t realize that they do. Hypertension often has no clear symptoms or symptoms that are easily overlooked.
Common symptoms of high blood pressure
- Early morning headaches
- Vision changes
- Irregular heartbeat
- Buzzing in the ears
- Nausea, vomiting
- Chest pain
- Muscle tremors
Other than the above symptoms, sometimes hypertension has no symptoms at all.
If hypertension goes undetected and uncontrolled, it can cause severe damage to the body. That is why is it important for at-risk individuals, as well as everyone, to measure their blood pressure regularly.
Who are at risk for high blood pressure?
According to the American Heart Association, these factors put people more at risk of high BP:
- A family history of high BP
- Old age
- Gender: before age 65, men are more at risk of high BP; after age 65, women are more at risk
- Race: people of African descent in America are more at risk of high BP
- Chronic kidney disease
- Pregnancy or being on certain birth controls
How to detect high blood pressure?
The easiest and most common way to detect high blood pressure is by using a blood pressure monitor. This can be done in a doctor’s office during a routine check-up, or at home using a validated blood pressure monitor.
The first accurate way to measure BP is by using the mercury sphygmomanometer, which is still considered the gold standard today and is used in many doctor’s offices. Other than the mercury sphygmomanometer (BPM shown by mercury), there is also the aneroid sphygmomanometer (BPM shown on a dial) and the digital sphygmomanometer (BPM shown digitally).
Blood pressure monitors usually have cuffs that fit around the upper arm for measurement, but wrist blood pressure monitors and finger blood pressure monitors have also been invented where the cuffs fit around the wrist or the finger.
Systolic pressure vs diastolic pressure
Systolic pressure refers to the force blood exerts on the arteries when the heart pumps, diastolic pressure refers to the force blood exerts on the vessels when the heart rests between beats. When taking BP with a blood pressure monitor, the number above the line is systolic pressure, and below is the diastolic pressure.
Both systolic and diastolic pressure are measured in units of mmHg, which refers to millimeters of mercury. Although not every BP monitor still uses mercury, the unit stays the same.
What is considered high blood pressure: the stages of high blood pressure
The ideal blood pressure is between 90-120 mmHg for systolic pressure and 60-80 mmHg for diastolic pressure.
Outside of the ideal, there are three stages of high blood pressure:
Elevated: systolic between 120-129 mmHg; diastolic below 80 mmHg
Stage 1 hypertension: systolic between 130-139 mmHg; diastolic between 80-90 mmHg
Stage 2 hypertension: systolic higher than 140 mmHg; diastolic higher than 90 mmHg
Hypertensive crisis: systolic higher than 180 mmHg; diastolic higher than 120 mmHg
What causes high blood pressure?
Lifestyle, diet, pre-existing conditions, medications, and genetics are all potential causes of high blood pressure. Here are some of the major risk factors of high blood pressure.
Smoking, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption, and constant stress can all increase the risk of high BP.
Diets that are high-sodium or low-potassium can increase fluid retention and thus increase blood pressure. A diet that is low in vitamin D diet can possibly increase the risk of high BP, but researchers are still uncertain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen (Mortin, Advil) and aspirin cause increased blood pressure and cause stroke, kidney damage, heart failure, and heart attack. It is very important to not take more than the recommended amount of NSAIDs, and people already dealing with high BP need to be especially cautious.
Cough and cold medicines often contain active ingredients such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine that constricts the arteries in the nose to help it decongest, but the drugs would constrict arteries not only in the nose but in the whole body, leading to an increase in blood pressure.
4. Pre-existing conditions
People who have pre-existing conditions of diabetes, obesity/overweight, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and kidney disease are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
People with a family history of high BP are more likely to have high BP as well.
If you are at risk for high blood pressure, you should frequently measure your blood pressure at the doctor’s office and at home and lead a healthy lifestyle with lots of physical activity and a balanced diet.
High blood pressure medication and treatment
Depending on how severe your high blood pressure is, your doctor may prescribe you with lifestyle changes and/or medication. A combination of medication is often needed to treat high BP.
Measuring Blood pressure at home
When measuring BP at home make sure to use a validated blood pressure monitor.
Here are some tips to get an accurate measurement at home:
- Use a validated blood pressure monitor that has been clinically tested to be accurate
- Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor and your back supported
- Measure at the same time every day
- Do not consume alcohol, caffeine, or tobacco 30 minutes before measurement
- Do not wrap cuff over clothing
- Do not be in a stressed state of mind immediately before or during the measurement
- Be in s relaxed, still position throughout the measurement
- Take 2-3 measurements consecutively and average the numbers to get a more accurate result
MOCACuff is a validated wrist blood pressure monitor that can be used anywhere
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