High Blood Pressure
As the heart pumps blood, the blood pushes against the arterial walls causing a force of pressure known as “blood pressure.” Too little pressure prevents the heart from pumping adequate blood and oxygen to the brain while too much pressure damages the arterial walls causing risk of heart attack or stroke.
Blood pressure is presented in two figures: systolic and diastolic. Systolic is your blood pressure when your heart is beating. Diastolic is your blood pressure between beats. The systolic number goes before the diastolic number. 120/80 mmHg is normal blood pressure for an adult. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is measured as 140/90 or higher.
Risk Factors and Causes
- Aging: It’s normal for your blood pressure to go up slightly as you get older but too much of a jump can lead to problems. People over the age of 55 are at an increased risk.
- Alcohol: If you consume more than two drinks a day, you put yourself at risk for high blood pressure.
- Smoking: Even one cigarette can raise your blood pressure. Smoking repeatedly can cause your blood pressure to stay high which puts additional strain on your heart and lungs.
- Diet: A diet that lacks calcium, magnesium, potassium and other essential minerals can raise your blood pressure. Consuming too much sodium can also heighten your risk.
- Family: It is possible to inherit high blood pressure from close family members, such as parents, uncles, or aunts. Those of African American descent are at an increased risk.
- Lack of Exercise: The average person should get 30 minutes of exercise a day to regulate your heart and keep your body healthy. Exercise strengthens your heart, improves your blood circulation, gives you more energy, and increases your HDL (good cholesterol). It is well-known that an inactive or sedentary lifestyle greatly increases the risk of high blood pressure.
- Obesity: Being obese is being more than 50% over your normal weight. Carrying around extra weight puts a strain on your heart and contributes to high blood pressure.
- Stress: While studies vary, most doctors agree that stress can cause problems with your overall health, especially your heart.
Almost one-third of people who have high blood pressure remain unaware because symptoms are usually passed off as something insignificant. Other symptoms are particularly alarming and may cause you to seek attention immediately. If you experience any of the following symptoms, make arrangements to visit your doctor as soon as possible:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in your chest
- Severe headache/migraine
- Continuous pounding in your neck, ears or chest
- Problems with your vision
- Blood in your urine
- Irregular heartbeat
There are several tests used to diagnose high blood pressure. The doctor will likely use a sphygmomanometer to take your blood pressure, a common procedure during any doctor’s visit. They slip a cuff around your arm, fasten it tightly, pump it full of air, and use a stethoscope and dial to measure your blood pressure. You may also find an automatic blood pressure machine in your local pharmacy.
If you are diagnosed, the doctor may run an EKG. Electrodes are used to measure the electric activity of your heart and the results are recorded on a graph. Another common test is called an echocardiogram, which takes ultrasound pictures of the heart that allow the doctor to examine damage and overall function more clearly.
Types of Blood Pressure
- Essential: The most commonly identified by primary care physicians. There is no specific cause, although lifestyle decisions and factors can increase your risk of developing it.
- Secondary: High blood pressure is the result of another disease, like diabetes or tumors.
- Malignant: The onset is very sudden and can be deadly however typically pretty rare. This occurs when your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher.
- Isolated Systolic: When only your systolic reading is high, caused by decreased arterial elasticity and most commonly found in older patients
The prognosis for high blood pressure is usually poor unless major lifestyle changes are made. Depending on the length of time, the seriousness of symptoms, and other health conditions that may contribute. In some cases high blood pressure can be reversed with diet, exercise, and medication.
Medication and changes in your lifestyle can help to improve your prognosis. If your high blood pressure is the result of another condition, such as diabetes, then improving that condition will also improve your blood pressure. Changing your diet and getting regular exercise is essential, although you need to clear these steps with your doctor first. You may need to stop drinking, smoking, or lose weight. While these things can be difficult, your health will improve significantly once you implement these changes.
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