What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries (blood vessels). High Blood Pressure, or Hypertension, is the name given when this pressure is too high and becomes damaging or dangerous.
Blood pressure is measured by two readings: Systolic and Diastolic.
- Systolic is when the heart beats, or contracts, and pushes the blood out of it. This is the highest the pressure is during the cardiac cycle.
- Diastolic is when the heart relaxes, or rests, as the blood is pushed back in. This is the lowest the pressure will be.
A single high blood pressure reading is not a valid measure of hypertension. Blood pressure must be found elevated over time to be considered “high”. The amount of time blood pressure is elevated and categorized as hypertension is not agreed upon by organizations, it is something for your primary health care provider to determine.
Blood Pressure Ranges
According to the American Heart Association:
Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day depending on activity, excitement, and stress levels. Exercise, such as weight lifting will elevate it temporarily, during the session, but it will return to normal upon completion. Stress will also elevate blood pressure for the duration of the stress, but will subside after the person is able to reduce their stress level.
Low Blood Pressure
Some people have low blood pressure. There is far less risk and damage when blood pressure is below the 120/80 that is normal. People don’t generally have any symptoms unless it is below either 90 for systole, or 60 for diastole. The symptoms a person would most likely notices are:
- Lightheadedness, especially while standing up from sitting or laying position (orthostatic hypotension).
- Fainting (syncope)
- Lack of concentration
- Blurred vision
- Cold, clammy, pale skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
Most of these symptoms can be relieved by proper hydration, exercise, and nutrition. Drinking caffeine will also act to raise blood pressure because it constricts blood vessels. Low blood pressure can be harmful if it is too low, mostly because fainting could cause a head injury. Other than that, it is usually not an issue
High blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because it has no symptoms, unless it is at “crisis” level. Blood pressure must be measures with a cuff on an artery. This can be done at home with a fairly inexpensive cuff for the upper arm or wrist, or in a pharmacy or drug store at no cost. If the reading is found to be high, come back the next morning and check again. This should be repeated several times to establish a trend.
Damage and Dangers of High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure can be harmful in the following ways:
- Stress on the heart causing it to enlarge and weaken
- Congestive heart failure
- Weakened blood vessels
- Kidney failure
- Metabolic syndrome
There is no certain cause of hypertension, other than heredity, and lifestyle factors. This accounts for about 90% – 95% of the people hypertension. For the rest, there are a few physical conditions that will cause it.
- Kidney disease
- Endocrine disorder
- Arterial disease
- Tumor in the adrenal medulla
Prevention and Treatment
There are many lifestyle habits that can be altered to reduce a person’s blood pressure, such as:
- Reducing sodium consumption
- If overweight, reduce body fat to a healthy level
- Increase physical activity to improve fitness
- Do not use nicotine
There are drug therapies that are effective after lifestyle changes have been made.
- Drugs that block or limit renin (an enzyme that elevates blood pressure)
- Drugs that relax blood vessels (dilates vessels)
The Bottom Line
When blood pressure is too high for too long it can be damaging and devastating to a person’s health. It can even be deadly. It is also a contributing factor to metabolic syndrome, which is a group of five or more undesirable and harmful health issues. If you haven’t checked your blood pressure, do so soon. Do so every month or so to establish a baseline and to know when it changes and what may have caused the change.
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