Blood pressure is the force needed to push the blood from the heart through the arteries to the body. It is the measurement of how hard the heart has to work to pump blood. Each time the heart beats, it is pushing blood and oxygen through the arteries to the entire body.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers, such as 120/80. The top number is the measurement of the force it takes to push the blood through the arteries – systolic pressure. The bottom number measures the pressure on the arteries when the heart is at rest between beats – diastolic pressure.
A blood pressure cuff wrapped around the upper arm, wrist or ankle can measure blood pressure by “hearing” the first beat and the last beat when the cuff is tightened and then slowly loosened. The first beat is an indicator of the force, or systolic pressure, needed to move the blood and the last beat is an indicator of the resting, or diastolic, pressure.
Blood pressure varies during the course of the day. It is lowest when the person is resting and gradually increases as the person gets up and starts moving about. Blood pressure can also rise during exercise or if the person is stressed, tense or angry.
Some medical conditions can also cause blood pressure to rise. Also, arteries become hardened and narrowed with cholesterol plaque and calcium, resulting in the heart having to pump harder to make blood pass through these arteries. When the heart pumps harder, blood pressure tends to automatically increase.
The Silent Killer
Growing evidence shows that elevated blood pressure, even at modest levels, is harmful to your health, increasing the risk of heart and vascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, atrial fibrillation, changes in vision, organ damage and kidney dysfunction.
High blood pressure can go undetected for years, since in most cases there are no external symptoms. Since high blood pressure cannot be detected unless readings are taken, it is possible that a stroke, heart attack, organ damage or failure are the first sign. Changes in vision can also be caused by high blood pressure.
Symptoms for high blood pressure are noticeable in very few people. Symptoms can include a headache, dizziness, blurred vision and nausea, which can also be indicators of other medical conditions, making a high blood pressure diagnosis based on symptoms very difficult.
New Guidelines Reveal More People Have High Blood Pressure
In late 2017, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology released new guidelines (numbers) for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure.
The new guidelines (the first comprehensive set of guidelines since 2003) lowered the definition of high blood pressure and emphasized the importance of early prevention, detection and treatment to reduce future cardiovascular risks and conditions.
Before the new standards, high blood pressure was defined as readings that were constantly at or above 140 mm/Hg systolic and 90 mm/Hg diastolic – or 140/90.
The new guidelines mean a significant number of Americans who previously fell below high-blood pressure numbers are now classified as having hypertension. Approximately 46 percent, nearly half, of all Americans fall within or above the high blood pressure indicators (130/80), versus only 32 percent, based on the pre-2017 benchmark of 140/90.
Under the new guidelines, the prevalence of high blood pressure is expected to triple among men under age 45 and double among women under 45, with the greatest effect among younger adults.
Four Categories of Blood Pressure:
Normal: Less than 120/80
Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
Stage 1 Hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
tage 2 Hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
Although many people will be identified under the new guidelines as having hypertension, only a small number of people will require medication to lower and control the high blood pressure. With a reading higher than 180/110, immediate medical attention is strongly recommended since the risk of heart attack is great.
The new guidelines also bring to light the importance of early detection and good blood pressure control through lifestyle and medications when necessary.
Many people can lower their numbers and decrease their risks through healthy changes. Those who fall into the Elevated or Stage 1 Hypertension categories should be able to lower and manage their blood pressure via lifestyle or behavior changes, such as more exercise, weight loss, plant-based diet, decreased tobacco and alcohol use, etc. For example, a 10-pound weight loss can result in a 5 mm/Hg reduction in blood pressure.
Changing behaviors and monitoring blood pressure can also reduce the risk of other conditions and help improve a person’s overall quality of life. It is a win-win. FBN
By Richard Holt, D.O.
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