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Blood Pressure: What Your Numbers Mean For Your Health

New Study Suggests Lowering Top Blood Pressure Number Reduces the Risk of Heart Attack

When was the last time your blood pressure was checked?

It’s important to keep tabs on your blood pressure numbers since having high blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent killer because it doesnt cause symptoms and wont be caught without regular blood pressure readings, explains Dr. Irfan Dadabhoy, primary care physician at Houston Methodist.

It’s also a common health condition. In fact, millions of American adults have high blood pressure, many of whom don’t have it under control.

Buying A Blood Pressure Instrument To Measure Your Blood Pressure At Home

Blood pressure instruments can be purchased in most pharmacies. Buy a blood pressure instrument that has been approved by the Association for the Advancement in Medical Instrumentation , the British Hypertension Society or the International Protocol . These labels will be marked clearly on the box. If you are unsure whether an instrument is approved, ask your pharmacist for help. Once you have bought the instrument, ask your doctor or pharmacist to check it to make sure the instrument measures your blood pressure accurately.

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How Blood Pressure Is Measured

A doctor or nurse will measure your blood pressure with a small gauge attached to an inflatable cuff. It’s simple and painless.

The person taking your blood pressure wraps the cuff around your upper arm. Some cuffs go around the forearm or wrist, but often they aren’t as accurate.

Your doctor or nurse will use a stethoscope to listen to the blood moving through your artery.

Theyâll inflate the cuff to a pressure higher than your systolic blood pressure, and it will tighten around your arm. Then theyâll release it. As the cuff deflates, the first sound they hear through the stethoscope is the systolic blood pressure. It sounds like a whooshing noise. The point where this noise goes away marks the diastolic blood pressure.

In a blood pressure reading, the systolic number always comes first, and then the diastolic number. For example, your numbers may be “120 over 80” or written as 120/80.

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What’s The Difference Between Blood Pressure And Pulse

While your blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.

  • They are two separate measurements and indicators of health.
  • For people with high blood pressure , theres no substitute for measuring blood pressure.

Whats The Difference Between Blood Pressure And Pulse

Best Blood Pressure Chart: Understanding Your Readings

While your blood pressure is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels, your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute.

  • They are two separate measurements and indicators of health.
  • For people with high blood pressure , theres no substitute for measuring blood pressure.

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What Are The Symptoms Of High Blood Pressure

Most people who have high blood pressure do not have symptoms. This is why its sometimes called the silent killer. It is very important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Some people experience headaches, nosebleeds, or shortness of breath with high blood pressure. However, those symptoms can mimic many other things . Usually, these symptoms occur once blood pressure has reached a dangerously high level over a period of time.

Top 10 High Blood Pressure Medications

Drugs that treat high blood pressure are known as antihypertensives. Blood pressure medications work by:

  • reducing the amount of water and salt in your body
  • causing the blood vessels to relax to keep them from narrowing
  • hampering nerve activity that causes blood vessels to restrict
  • lowering your heart rate and helping it beat with less force

There are several classes of antihypertensive medications, and each class includes several drug options. Your doctor will work with you to find the best treatment plan.

The following list provides the top 10 blood pressure medications by prescriptions written. The list includes a brief description of each drug, including its class, how to take it, and what it treats. The next section provides more information on drug classes.

The most common high blood pressure medications by total prescriptions written include:

  • Lisinopril : This medication is an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. It is a drug that you usually take once per day. Most people find once-daily dosing to be convenient and easy to remember. Lisinopril is also a treatment option for heart failure.
  • Metoprolol : This medication is a beta-blocker. It comes in an immediate-release form and an extended-release form. It also helps lower the risk of repeat heart attacks and helps treat angina and congestive heart failure.
  • Amlodipine : This medication is a calcium channel blocker. People usually take it once per day. Amlodipine is also a treatment option for angina.
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    How Can I Tell If I Have High Blood Pressure

    High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. Thats why its called the silent killer. In 90-95 percent of cases, the cause of high blood pressure is unknown.

    A single elevated blood pressure reading doesnt mean you have high blood pressure, but its a sign that further observation is required. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked.

    When To Consult A Doctor

    Study shows lowering top blood pressure number benefits brain

    If a person monitors their blood pressure at home and does not see lower readings despite implementing lifestyle changes, they should contact a medical professional. Doctors can help to determine the underlying cause of their high blood pressure.

    A person should seek immediate medical attention if they have two readings of 180/120 mm Hg or higher within 5 minutes, especially if they are experiencing a headache or nosebleed.

    Doctors do not associate increased diastolic blood pressure with cardiovascular events in younger individuals.

    However, increases in diastolic pressure in those aged

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    What Are The Causes Of Isolated Systolic Hypertension

    Blood pressure involves how much blood your heart pumps every minute, as well as the pressure exerted on the walls of your arteries by that blood.

    As you age, your arteries lose some of their natural elasticity and are less able to accommodate the rush of blood. Plaque, which is fatty deposits on the artery wall, can also contribute to the stiffening of the arteries.

    Blood pressure particularly systolic blood pressure naturally tends to increase with age. Because of this, there may be no identifiable cause of high blood pressure.

    However, there are some medical conditions that can cause you to develop ISH. These conditions can affect your circulatory system, which can damage your blood vessels or contribute to artery stiffening.

    Some of these conditions include:

    Reasons For High Systolic Blood Pressure

    Blood pressure readings are measured by healthcare professionals in order to monitor health and predict the risk of developing conditions such as stroke, heart attack or kidney disease. Blood pressure is recorded as 2 numbers — the systolic over the diastolic, and both readings, if elevated, can signal high blood pressure. Ongoing or chronic elevations in systolic blood pressure are sometimes linked to an underlying health problem. However, most high blood pressure, or hypertension, has an unclear cause, but may be linked to genetics, aging, medications and lifestyle habits.

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    What Questions Should I Ask My Provider

    • Are there supplements or non-prescription medicines that I shouldnt take?
    • Can I keep taking these medicines if I get pregnant?
    • What kinds of exercise should I do?

    A note from Cleveland Clinic

    If you dont treat high blood pressure, it can put you at risk for developing serious illnesses later in life such as heart attack, kidney failure and stroke. But if you follow your providers instructions, you can manage your blood pressure. Be sure to take any medicines your provider ordered as instructed. Keep taking them even if your blood pressure numbers begin to fall into the normal range. Living a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy foods, watching your weight and getting regular exercise is also a great way to help manage your blood pressure.

    Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/21/2021.

    References

    • American College of Cardiology. New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension. Accessed 9/20/2021.
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High Blood Pressure. Accessed 9/20/2021.
    • Food and Drug Administration. High Blood Pressure : Medicines to Help You. Accessed 9/20/2021.
    • JNC 8 Guidelines for the Management of Hypertension in Adults. Am Fam Physician. 2014 Oct 1 90:503-504. aafp.org. Accessed 9/20/2021.
    • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High Blood Pressure. Accessed 9/20/2021.

    Complications Of High Blood Pressure

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    Untreated or poorly managed high blood pressure can cause serious and even life threatening issues. It can damage your blood vessels as well as your organs. The longer your hypertension goes untreated, the more it can damage your body and affect your health.

    Potential complications of high blood pressure include:

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    Healthy And Unhealthy Blood Pressure Ranges

    Learn whats considered normal, as recommended by the American Heart Association.

    Blood Pressure Chart

    SYSTOLIC mm Hg and/or DIASTOLIC mm Hg
    NORMAL
    HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE STAGE 1 130 139
    HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE STAGE 2 140 OR HIGHER
    HYPERTENSIVE CRISIS HIGHER THAN 180 and/or HIGHER THAN 120

    Note: A diagnosis of high blood pressure must be confirmed with a medical professional. A doctor should also evaluate any unusually low blood pressure readings.

    The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are:

    Facts About High Blood Pressure

    There’s a good reason why every doctor’s appointment starts with a blood pressure check. While one in three American adults has high blood pressure, about 20% of people are unaware that they have it because it is largely symptomless.

    In fact, most people find out they have high blood pressure during a routine office visit.

    Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, is when that force is too high and begins harming the body. If left untreated, it willl eventually cause damage to the heart and blood vessels.

    Your blood pressure is measured in two numbers: The top systolic blood pressure measures the force pushing against artery walls when the heart is contracting. The bottom diastolic blood pressure measures pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats.

    Normal blood pressure levels are 120 mmHg/80 mmHg or lower. At risk levels are 120-139 mmHg/80-89 mmHg. Readings of 140 mmHg/90 mmHg or higher are defined as high blood pressure.

    Here are six other things you should know about high blood pressure.

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    How Does It Change Treatment

    Flint said the findings wont change much when it comes to treating your blood pressure with medications.

    It turns out that the medications do both, so we dont have to make things more complicated in terms of picking and choosing medications, Flint said.

    Everybody reacts to the medications in different ways. Really, its just a matter of working with your physician to find the right medication, the right dose to achieve both of those numbers. All the classes of anti-hypertensive medications work for both numbers, he said.

    While these findings may not make much difference in the medications I give my patients, it is an opportunity to reinforce with the lay public that the lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease, Oskoui said.

    We can remind our patients to cut out alcohol, exercise in moderation, and lose weight. Even a 10 to 15 pound weight loss can mean the difference between medication or not, Oskoui added.

    That advice echoes what the American Heart Association

    • Eat a well-balanced diet low in salt.
    • Limit your alcohol.
    • Take your medications as prescribed.
    • Work with your doctor.

    High Blood Pressure Treatment

    Blood Pressure: How High is Too High and How Do I Lower it Safely?

    The best way to lower blood pressure begins with changes you can make to your lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower your blood pressure. These are called antihypertensive medicines.

    The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure to normal levels. Your doctor may prescribe medicine thats easy to take and has few, if any, side effects. This treatment is highly successful. If your blood pressure can only be controlled with medicine, youll need to take the medicine for the rest of your life. It is common to need more than one medicine to help control your blood pressure. Dont stop taking the medicine without talking with your doctor. Otherwise, you may increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.

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    If You Get A High Blood Pressure Reading

    • A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. If you get a reading that is slightly or moderately higher than normal, take your blood pressure a few more times and consult your health care professional to verify if there s a health concern or whether there may be any issues with your monitor.
    • If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
    • If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.

    Learning To Cope With Stress Can Help

    Stress and hypertension have often been linked, but researchers are still looking into a direct relationship between the two. Still, the best advice to hypertensive patients: Try to relax.

    When you are stressed, your body sends stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. These hormones create a temporary spike in blood pressure, causing your heart to beat faster and blood vessels to narrow. When the stressful situation is over, blood pressure goes back to its normal level.

    Chronic stress, however, may cause your body to stay in this highly-charged state longer than natural.

    While stress itself may or may not affect blood pressure, how you cope with stress does. For instance, overeating, smoking and drinking alcohol in response to stressful situations are direct causes of sustained high blood pressure. On the flip side, healthier coping mechanisms like exercising, practicing yoga and meditating can all help lower blood pressure.

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    Symptoms Of Low Blood Pressure

    Most doctors will only consider chronically low blood pressure as dangerous if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms, such as:

    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Dehydration and unusual thirst
    • Dehydration can sometimes cause blood pressure to drop. However, dehydration does not always cause low blood pressure. Fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, overuse of diuretics and strenuous exercise can all lead to dehydration, a potentially serious condition in which your body loses more water than you take in. Even mild dehydration can cause weakness, dizziness and fatigue.
    • Lack of concentration

    What Causes Low Blood Pressure

    Blood Pressure High Top Number Normal Bottom

    There are many possible reasons for low blood pressure, according to both Dr. Wong and Dr. Desai, including:

    • Heart problems like heart failure or low heart rates
    • Endocrine problems, such as parathyroid disease, adrenal insufficiency or hypoglycemia
    • Side effects of medications for high blood pressure, prostatic hypertrophy, Parkinsons disease, depression and erectile dysfunction
    • Massive weight loss
    • Rapid heart rate

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    Treatment Of High Blood Pressure

    Treatment for HBP depends on its severity and associated risks of developing other diseases. Treatment options include:

    Lifestyle changes

    Medications

    • ACE inhibitors will help blood vessels relax and open up, leading to a lower blood pressure.
    • Angiotensin II receptor blockers will help blood vessels open up, leading to a lower blood pressure.
    • Beta blockers will help reduce your blood pressure.
    • Alpha blockers will help reduce the arteries resistance, relaxing the muscle tone of the vascular walls.
    • Alpha-2 receptor agonists will help reduce blood pressure by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic portion of the involuntary nervous system.
    • Calcium channel blockers will help relax and open up narrowed blood vessels, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure.
    • Combined alpha and beta blockers are used as an IV drip for those patients experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
    • Central agonists will help decrease the blood vessels ability to tense up or contract.
    • Diuretics water pills will help reduce the amount of fluid retention in your body.
    • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors will help reduce blood pressure by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain.
    • Vasodilators will help the muscle in the walls of the blood vessels to relax, allowing the vessel to dilate.

    The Basics Of Blood Pressure

    A blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers expressed as a fraction. The top number, or systolic pressure, measures how much pressure is in the arteries when the heart contracts. The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, measures the blood pressure between beats.

    When your heart pumps, all that blood rushes and fills your arteries, Baker said. Its just like plumbing: if youre pumping more water into the system, the pressure inside the plumbing goes up. Thats your systolic reading. When the heart relaxes and fills, the reading falls and you get the lower number, or your diastolic reading.

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