Every day in this country, nearly 1000 men and women die as a result of high blood pressure that could’ve been treated before critical damage was done. In addition the condition, known as hypertension, costs the nation an estimated 46 billion dollars in healthcare, treatments and medications, and lost days of work.
While one in three adults is currently affected by high blood pressure, only about 54% have this very serious medical condition under control. Sadly, many individuals are unaware they even have it, dubbing high blood pressure the, “silent killer”. In fact, many of us only discover our numbers are too high after a trip to the doctor for unrelated symptoms. Knowing what to look for, and what can be done could save your life, or the life of a loved one.
What is high blood pressure, or hypertension?
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a medical condition that occurs when blood flows through arteries at high pressure. Under normal circumstances, as the heart pumps blood, it is forced naturally through vessels and arteries. When this force against artery walls becomes too high, weakening and other damage, such as small tearing can occur.
How is high blood pressure measured?
Health care practitioners use standard equipment to monitor blood pressure that may include a gauge, stethoscope, electronic sensor or, blood pressure cuff. Blood pressure is measured for all populations the same way. This includes babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors.
Blood pressure is measured in both “systolic pressure”, which designates pressure while blood is actually pumping through the heart, and “diastolic pressure” that records pressure between heart beats, while the heart is at rest. The systolic number is always written above the diastolic number and read, “120 over 80”, for example.
What is considered normal and high for blood pressure?
Normal Blood Pressure
Systolic blood pressure in adults is “normal” if the systolic pressure is 120 mmHg (millimeters of mercury, a unit of pressure) and the diastolic pressure is below 80 mmHg. Certain states affect blood pressure, such as sleep, waking, nervousness, and excitement. During periods of great activity, blood pressure increases as well. Once activity ceases, blood pressure returns to normal once again, however. Newborns generally have lower blood pressure levels than adults. As a child ages blood pressure increases as well.
Abnormal Blood Pressure
Higher than normal blood pressure readings may be dangerous and eventually put individuals at-risk for serious medical conditions such as heart attack or stroke. Abnormal readings include those higher than 120/80 mmHg. The table below outlines high blood pressure levels by severity.
|Blood Pressure Levels|
|Normal||systolic: less than 120 mmHg
diastolic: less than 80mmHg
|At risk (prehypertension)||systolic: 120–139 mmHg
diastolic: 80–89 mmHg
|High||systolic: 140 mmHg or higher
diastolic: 90 mmHg or higher
The above ranges pertain to adults with no short-term serious illnesses. Individuals who have diabetes or chronic kidney disease are advised to keep blood pressure levels below 130/80 mmHg.
While prehypertension is not as serious as high blood pressure, without treatment and proper lifestyle changes, the condition can quickly escalate. Consistently high blood pressure can weaken and damage blood vessels over time, leading to life threatening consequences.
Symptoms and Consequences of High Blood Pressure
For the majority of individuals, there are no warning symptoms associated with high blood pressure. Some people may experience headaches and fatigue with high blood pressure, however.
Consequences of high blood pressure range from serious to life threatening.
Statistically, when a first heart attack occurs, 7 of every 10 people have high blood pressure.
Roughly, 8 of every 10 people with a first stroke have high blood pressure.
About 7 of every 10 individuals who experience chronic heart failure have high blood pressure.
Kidney disease is highly associated with high blood pressure as well.
Types of High Blood Pressure
Two main types of blood pressure, both primary and secondary exist.
Primary blood pressure generally develops over a period of years with age and is the most common type of high blood pressure.
Secondary high blood pressure occurs as a result of another medical condition or a particular medication. Once treatment is administered for the medical condition or the medication is stopped, secondary blood pressure resolves.
High Blood Pressure, Hypertension and Age
Both women and men may develop high blood pressure during their lifetimes. For individuals under 45 however, the condition is more predominant in males. The reverse is true for those 65 and older, where high blood pressure affects more women than men.
The table below illustrates this finding.
|Age||Men (%)||Women (%)|
|75 and older||66.7||78.5|
Treatment For High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is treated many different ways depending on the severity of the condition, other medical issues, lifestyle choices, and response to previous interventions.
Lifestyle modifications—One of the first lines of defense against high blood pressure is healthy living. By making positive lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, exercising regularly, reducing stress, losing weight, and controlling diabetes, high blood pressure can sometimes be reduced without further treatment or intervention.
Pharmaceuticals—Several medications may be used to help lower high blood pressure. These may differ in the way they each function, however.
ACE inhibitors work to stop a specific chemical from forming that constricts and narrows blood vessels. This in turn, helps vessels to relax, which reduces blood pressure.
ARBs also relax blood vessels and block chemicals that narrow arteries and veins.
Diuretics relieve the body of excess water through urination. This reduces blood pressure as well.
Beta-blockers work to expand blood vessels, therefore reducing the workload on the heart.
Calcium channel blockers work by reducing electrical conduction in the heart, which helps dilate arteries. Dilation decreases blood pressure and reduces the work of the heart.
Technological Advances For High Blood Pressure
Rheos Blood Pressure Device—Some individuals with high blood pressure may not respond well to available pharmaceuticals. For these patients, a small implantable device, about the size of a pacemaker can be used to control blood pressure. It does this by electrically stimulating the carotid arteries. While currently only ever implanted in chronically hypertensive patients at the University of Rochester in the U.S., a handful of other medical centers around the world have begun to implement the new technology to treat high blood pressure as well.
Ongoing Research For High Blood Pressure
Until very recently, information about genetic factors, and how they affect high blood pressure has been limited at best. In one of the largest high blood pressure studies conducted, involving 347,000 participants and 200 investigators from 15 nations, researchers from both Queen Mary University of London, and the University of Cambridge found changes in DNA in three particular genes that significantly impact blood pressure, much more than scientists previously thought.
Findings in these areas are highly significant, providing new information and insight into hypertension, and new possibilities for treatment. As more is uncovered in the field of genetics, promising links to help isolate certain, “at-risk” individuals or populations and further preventive care may finally be a real likelihood.
Diagnosing and managing high blood pressure is critical in the fight against heart disease, stroke, and heart attack, and one of the many factors impacting chronic kidney disease and diabetes as well. While 1 out of 3 U.S. adults have high blood pressure—little more than half receive effective treatment. Another 20% still don’t know they have it.
Find out more about high blood pressure and treatment options through regular blood pressure screenings with a healthcare provider or physician.
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