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How To Know If You Have High Blood Pressure

What Are The Types Of High Blood Pressure

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If you have high blood pressure with no known single cause, this is called essential hypertension or primary hypertension. Most people have this type of hypertension. If you have high blood pressure which is caused by another health problem, this is known as secondary hypertension, and treating the cause should bring your blood pressure back down to normal.

Variations In Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure changes to meet your bodys needs. If a reading is high, your doctor may measure your blood pressure again on several separate occasions to confirm the level.

Your doctor may also recommend that you measure your blood pressure at home or have a 24-hour recording with a monitoring device.

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If high blood pressure goes undetected for a long period of time, the condition can damage your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other parts of your body.

For some people, it takes being diagnosed with coronary heart disease, stroke, or kidney failure to learn that they also have high blood pressure.

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Other Inconclusively Related Symptoms

A variety of symptoms may be indirectly related to, but are not always caused by, high blood pressure, such as:

  • Blood spots in the eyes: Blood spots in the eyes are more common in people with diabetes or high blood pressure, but neither condition causes the blood spots. Floaters in the eyes are also not related to high blood pressure. However, an eye doctor may be able to detect damage to the optic nerve caused by untreated high blood pressure.
  • Facial flushing: Facial flushing occurs when blood vessels in the face dilate. It can occur unpredictably or in response to certain triggers such as sun exposure, cold weather, spicy foods, wind, hot drinks and skin-care products. Facial flushing can also occur with emotional stress, exposure to heat or hot water, alcohol consumption and exercise all of which can raise blood pressure temporarily. While facial flushing may occur while your blood pressure is higher than usual, high blood pressure is not the cause of facial flushing.
  • Dizziness: While dizziness can be a side effect of some blood pressure medications, it is not caused by high blood pressure. However, dizziness should not be ignored, especially if the onset is sudden. Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and trouble walking are all warning signs of a stroke. High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for stroke.

Written by American Heart Association editorial staff and reviewed by science and medicine advisers. See our editorial policies and staff.

Lowering Systolic Blood Pressure More May Cut Health Risks

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One major study found that lowering systolic blood pressure to well below the commonly recommended level also greatly lowered the number of cardiovascular events and deaths among people at least 50 years old with high blood pressure.

When study participants achieved a systolic blood pressure target of 120 mmHg compared to the higher target of 140 mmHg recommended for most people, and 150 for people over 60 issues such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure were reduced by almost one-third, and the risk of death by almost one-fourth.

“That’s important information, because more lives may be saved and more deaths may be prevented if we maintain lower blood pressure in certain patients,” says Lynne Braun, NP, PhD, a nurse practitioner at the Rush Heart Center for Women.

Braun cautions, however, that your personal blood pressure target depends on a variety of things, including your current blood pressure, lifestyle, risk factors, other medications you are taking and your age. “Every person has to be evaluated as an individual,” she says. “Realistically, we can’t get everybody down to 120, and trying to do so may create unintended problems.”

It can be dangerous, for instance, to keep an older person on medications that have unsafe side effects, such as diuretics , which can cause dehydration and dizziness in older adults.

And there can be other issues involved with taking multiple medications, such as cost and compliance.

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Secondary High Blood Pressure

Some cases of high blood pressure are the result of underlying factors or cause and this is known as secondary high blood pressure.

Underlying factors include:

  • kidney conditions, such as a kidney infection, or kidney disease
  • narrowing of the arteries
  • hormonal conditions, such as Cushing’s syndrome
  • conditions that affect the bodys tissue, such as lupus
  • medication, such as the oral contraceptive pill, or the type of painkillers that are known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as ibuprofen
  • recreational drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and crystal meth

Occasionally, a rise in blood pressure can result from taking herbal remedies, such as herbal supplements.

What Are The Different Types Of High Blood Pressure

There are two main types of high blood pressure: primary and secondary high blood pressure.:

  • Primary, or essential, high blood pressure is the most common type of high blood pressure. For most people who get this kind of blood pressure, it develops over time as you get older.
  • Secondary high blood pressure is caused by another medical condition or use of certain medicines. It usually gets better after you treat that condition or stop taking the medicines that are causing it.

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Tests For High Blood Pressure

When you have a doctors appointment, a nurse, medical assistant, or doctor typically checks your blood pressure. They routinely check blood pressure because there arent symptoms of high blood pressure. The only way to catch it is to test it.

A blood pressure machine, officially called a sphygmomanometer, is used to test for high blood pressure. The blood pressure cuff fits around your arm. Doctors or nurses might use a manual blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope to measure your blood pressure. At home, you can use an electronic blood pressure monitor. It only takes a minute or so to do the test.

When measuring blood pressure, youll observe two numbers:

  • Systolic: top number indicating pressure inside the artery when the heart is contracting
  • Diastolic: bottom number indicating the pressure of blood inside the arteries when the heart is filling

You have high blood pressure if you have a systolic reading of 140 mm Hg or higher and a diastolic reading of 90 mm Hg or higher. In this case, the nurse or doctor might wait a few minutes and check your blood pressure again. If its still high, you might be asked to monitor your blood pressure at home.

High blood pressure can be a sign of another medical condition. Untreated high blood pressure can cause organ damage. To assess your health properly, a doctor might also order a urine test, blood tests, or an electrocardiogram to check your heart health.

Who Is At Risk For High Blood Pressure

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Your family history, lifestyle and medications can increase the chances youll develop high blood pressure. Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • Age
  • Drinking too much
  • Some medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, also known as NSAIDS, some decongestants, weight loss medicines and stimulants)
  • Some underlying health conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, kidney conditions, adrenal gland tumors and thyroid diseases
  • Inactivity
  • Tobacco and illicit drug use
  • Other

Unfortunately, family history is a large contributing factor. Even if you eat well, are physically active and avoid risk factors, you may still experience high blood pressure.

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Pounding Neck Or Ears

This pounding on your neck and ears is often referred to as tinnitus. It is the annoying sensation where you can hear a sound that is not physically present. Hypertension and other factors that may increase your blood pressure like alcohol, caffeine, and stress may make tinnitus more evident and noticeable.

How To Use An Automated Blood Pressure Machine

The easiest way to take your own blood pressure is to purchase an automated cuff. Automatic blood pressure machines are the easiest to use, and theyre helpful if you have any hearing impairments.

These types of blood pressure cuffs have a digital monitor that will display your blood pressure reading on a screen. You can purchase these online, at most grocery stores, or at a health food store.

The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, upper arm blood pressure monitor for at-home use. To use your digital blood pressure monitor, follow the instructions that come with it. You can also take the monitor to your doctors office, or even your local pharmacy, for a demonstration.

You should also purchase a small notebook to start a blood pressure log. This can be helpful for your doctor. You can a free blood pressure log from the AHA.

Machines can give you a different reading than a manual blood pressure reading. Bring your cuff to your next doctors appointment so you can compare the reading from your cuff to the reading your doctor takes. This can help you calibrate your machine and identify levels you should look for on your own device.

Its also important to purchase a high-quality machine and monitor for errors. Even if you check your blood pressure at home, your doctor will still want to manually check it during appointments.

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How Common Is High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a common condition, it is estimated that 18% of adult men and 13% of adult women have high blood pressure but are not getting treatment for it.

In 90-95% of cases, there is no single identifiable reason for a rise in blood pressure. But all available evidence shows that lifestyle plays a significant role in regulating your blood pressure.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • age
  • poor diet
  • being overweight
  • excessive alcohol consumption.

Also, for reasons not fully understood, people of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian origin are more likely to develop high blood pressure than other ethnic groups.

Common Causes Of High Blood Pressure Spikes

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Some people with high blood pressure will experience sharp rises in their blood pressure. These spikes, which typically last only a short period of time, are also known as sudden high blood pressure. These are some possible causes:

  • Caffeine
  • Certain medications or combinations of medications
  • Chronic kidney disease

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Causes And Risk Factors

You may be at an increased risk for high blood pressure if you smoke, areoverweight, eat a diet thats low on produce and fiber and/or high in fatand salt, drink alcohol to excess, live with chronic stress or dont getmuch physical activity. Some causes of hypertension cannot becontrolledincluding your genes and your race . Aging also plays a role. Even if you do not have hypertensionby age 55 to 65, your lifetime risk for developing it is a whopping 90percent.

But doctors no longer consider hypertension inevitable or untreatable withage, saysSamuel Durso, M.D.,director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at JohnsHopkins.

In one Johns Hopkins study of 975 older women and men with hypertension,healthy lifestyle steps helped 40 percent stop taking blood pressuremedications. Other research has shown that lifestyle changes can lower therisk for hypertension in African-Americans and others at an increasedgenetic risk.

What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers:

The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.

The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say, 120 over 80, or write, 120/80 mmHg.

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Why Is Your Blood Pressure Important

Your blood pressure is important because if it is too high, it affects the blood flow to your organs. Over the years, this increases your chances of developing heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, eye disease, erectile dysfunction and other conditions.

Very occasionally, people with very high blood pressure are at serious risk of problems and need urgent treatment in hospital to reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

Current Australian guidelines recommend that if you have persistent raised blood pressure over 160/100 mmHg, but are at low risk of having a stroke or heart attack, you should talk to your doctor or specialist about taking medication to lower your blood pressure.

For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

If youre over 18, you should have your blood pressure checked by your doctor at least every 2 years, or more often if advised.

Diagnosing High Blood Pressure

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Diagnosing hypertension is as simple as taking a blood pressure reading. Most doctors offices check blood pressure as part of a routine visit. If you dont receive a blood pressure reading at your next appointment, request one.

If your blood pressure is elevated, your doctor may request you have more readings over the course of a few days or weeks. A hypertension diagnosis is rarely given after just one reading.

Your doctor needs to see evidence of a sustained problem. Thats because your environment can contribute to increased blood pressure, like the stress you may feel by being at the doctors office. Also, blood pressure levels change throughout the day.

If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor will likely conduct more tests to rule out underlying conditions. These tests can include:

These tests can help your doctor identify any secondary issues causing your elevated blood pressure. They can also look at the effects high blood pressure may have had on your organs.

During this time, your doctor may begin treating your hypertension. Early treatment may reduce your risk of lasting damage.

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High Blood Pressure And Older Adults

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High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major health problem that is common in older adults. Your bodys network of blood vessels, known as the vascular system, changes with age. Arteries get stiffer, causing blood pressure to go up. This can be true even for people who have heart-healthy habits and feel just fine. High blood pressure, sometimes called “the silent killer,” often does not cause signs of illness that you can see or feel. Though it affects nearly half of all adults, many may not even be aware they have it.

If high blood pressure isn’t controlled with lifestyle changes and medication, it can lead to serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease such as heart disease and stroke, vascular dementia, eye problems, and kidney disease. The good news is that blood pressure can be controlled in most people.

Salt Intake And High Blood Pressure

Reducing the amount of salt you eat can also help to manage or even avoid high blood pressure. To help reduce your salt intake:

  • Ensure your diet consists of wholefoods including vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean meat and poultry, fish and seafood, legumes, unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Avoid packaged and processed foods that are high in salt. You cant see the salt in these foods, so you dont know how much salt you are having. Get into the habit of checking food labels.
  • Choose low-salt food where possible. If you cant find low-salt products, those with moderate amounts of salt are ok too. Another simple alternative is to look for labels with low salt, salt reduced or no added salt.
  • Avoid adding salt to cooking or at the table flavour meals with herbs and spices instead.

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Get To Know Your Numbers

Because there arent any symptoms, its important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Get to know the numbers and when to get help from your doctor.

Your blood pressure will have two numbers:

  • Systolic is the upper number, measuring when your heart is forcing blood through your vessels.
  • Diastolic is the lower number, measuring pressure between heart beats.

For example, 120/80 indicates a systolic blood pressure of 120 and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 mm/Hg.

What Can I Do To Prevent Or Manage High Blood Pressure

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Many people with high blood pressure can lower their blood pressure into a healthy range or keep their numbers in a healthy range by making lifestyle changes. Talk with your health care team about

  • Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week
  • Not smoking
  • Managing stress

Learn more about ways to manage and prevent high blood pressure.

In addition to making positive lifestyle changes, some people with high blood pressure need to take medicine to manage their blood pressure. Learn more about medicines for high blood pressure.

Talk with your health care team right away if you think you have high blood pressure or if youve been told you have high blood pressure but do not have it under control.

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Symptoms Of Increased Eye Pressure

The symptoms of increased eye pressure can be hard to detect.Some people may notice a slight increase in pressure over time while others feel an intense pain more immediately. Aside from feeling increased pressure in your eyes, you may also notice drainage or even partial vision loss. Pressure usually occurs behind the eyes, but you may also feel it between your eyes.

Eye pressure is often a symptom of glaucoma however, the two conditions are not the same. Their symptoms can also be similar. For most people with high eye pressure, there is no vision loss present. Because having high eye pressure puts you at an increased risk of glaucoma, you might experience several symptoms together. Most of the time, there are few, if any, symptoms of intraocular eye pressure that is not related to glaucoma.

Here are some possible symptoms to be aware of that may accompany high eye pressure:

  • A slight loss of vision
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Seeing spots, dots, or circles

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