Posted on Dec 05, 2019, 4 p.m.
1 in 3 Americans are estimated to have high blood pressure, and about 20% of those are not aware that they have high blood pressure because it is for the most part symptomless, meaning most find out that they have high blood pressure during a routine check up.
Most check ups will start with a blood pressure check, and there is good reason for it. It is the force of blood pushing against the walls of arteries as the heart pumps blood, high blood pressure is when the force is elevated and begins to harm the body and if left untreated it will cause damage to the heart and blood vessels over time.
Blood pressure is measured in a set of numbers; the top number is systolic blood pressure which measures the force pushing against the artery walls as the heart contracts while the bottom number is diastolic blood pressure which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Normal blood pressure levels are 120 mmHg/80 mmHG or lower, levels that may put you at risk are 120-139/80-99. And levels of 140/90 of higher are defined as having high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is linked to other medical conditions, and having high blood pressure may be an indicator of having an underlying condition. Patients with high blood pressure will often be checked for urine and kidney function, have an electrocardiogram to check heart size, and be examined for lung changes.
Stress on blood vessels make those with hypertension more susceptible to stroke, heart attack, aneurysms, kidney disease, heart disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and kidney disease increase the risk for developing hypertension.
Lowering systolic blood pressure has been found to decrease the risk of the number of cardiovascular events and deaths among those aged 50+ with hypertension. When the participants in the study achieved the target of 120 mmHg issues such as stroke, heart attack, and heart failure were reduced by close to one third, and the risk of death was decreased by close to one fourth. Personal blood pressure targets depend on a range of factors, a trained medical professional can advise what it best and how to achieve it.
"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. "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."
Some people have elevated blood pressure when in a medical setting but not in others, this is called white coat hypertension, and it should not be ignored. Those that experience this should monitor their blood pressure at home with a monitor that takes blood pressure every 30 minutes over the course of 24 hours. Those that experience white coat hypertension are at great risk for developing sustained high blood pressure.
Hypertension and stress have often been linked, however, a direct relationship is still being looked for. Adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body under stress, these hormones can create a temporary spike in blood pressure, when the situation causing stress is over blood pressure goes back to normal. Chronic stress may cause the body to stay in this state longer than natural, the best advice is to try and relax and learn to manage stress and anxiety.
Blood pressure will typically dip during the deepest stages of sleep, most people spend 2 hours in slow wave sleep each night. Making sure that you get a good night of sleep can help to prevent and manage high blood pressure.
Too much sodium can cause water retention and place increased pressure on the heart and blood vessels. Those with high blood pressure and those at risk for developing hypertension should limit sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg a day of salt. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study which found that if people would cut a half teaspoon of salt from the diet per day it would reduce the number of new cases of heart disease by up to 120,000 annually. Even those with normal blood pressure should limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg/day.
Some people with hypertension may experience sharp spikes in blood pressure that may only last for a short period of time, these may be caused by caffeine, smoking, stress, anxiety, thyroid issues, certain medications, chronic kidney disease, drug use, pregnancy, scleroderma. Collagen vascular disorders, and overactive adrenal glands.
If you have hypertension and experience sudden onset of any of the following symptoms seek medical assistance: blurred vision, shortness of breath, weakness or numbness in the face/arms/legs, nausea or vomiting, chest pain, headache, coughing, or anxiety/fatigue/confusion/restlessness.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.