According to the CDC, 1 in 3 American adults has high blood pressure1. High blood pressure can affect anyone including children.
Knowing the causes, risks, and treatment of high blood pressure is important to overall health, especially as we age.
What is Blood Pressure?
With each heartbeat, blood is pushed out into vessels, called arteries. These arteries transport blood from the heart to every part of the body. Blood pressure (BP) is the detectable intensity of the blood as it rushes against the walls of those arteries.
A universal standard of measurement of blood pressure is important because it quickly and easily helps medical personnel gauge patient heart health, without invasive procedures. A particular patient's doctor can track that patient's heart health and overall wellness over extended time by tracking and recording the patient's blood pressure during each medical visit.
Emergency medical teams can instantly assess whether a victim is in major crisis by reading blood pressure and comparing that number to widely accepted normal rates.
How is Blood Pressure Measured?
Blood pressure is measured both as the heart is actively pumping the blood with each beat and when it is at rest between beats.
Systolic pressure is the measurement of the pressure of heartbeats when the force of blood within the arteries is at its greatest and flow is at its maximum.
Diastolic pressure is a lower number, as it is the measurement of pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest and less blood is pushing against arterial walls.
When a medical attendant records blood pressure in patient records, systolic pressure is recorded as the top (or first) number over the diastolic (second) measurement, as in 120/80 mmHg.
When talking to a patient or another medical attendant about a patient's blood pressure, the measured result is stated as, "120 over 80." This accepted way of recording and speaking of blood pressure ensures universal understanding of how the patient's heart is performing without confusion or question.
Healthy Blood Pressure
Most people have fairly consistent blood pressure rates throughout each day. Blood pressure rises at times when the body is active and falls when the body is at rest, reading highest during strenuous activity or exercise and lowest while sleeping or relaxing. Blood pressure can also spike to a high level when the body is under stress, anxiety, or in fear.
Most medical experts accept 120/80 as a healthy, ideal blood pressure.
When patients have measured pressure over 140/90, they are considered to have high blood pressure and are at greater risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems. This is because a higher pressure means the heart is having to work harder than it should to sustain the body and arteries are suffering ongoing damage from heightened force within their walls.
Causes of High or Low Blood Pressure
In 1905, a Russian physician named Dr. Nikolai Korotkoff first identified the sounds blood pressure makes through a stethoscope. He clarified the difference between systolic and diastolic sounds, enabling doctors around the world to measure those rates and compare unhealthy patient rates to healthy ones. This is where identification of blood pressure's importance in the assessment of patient health really started and where healthy rate standards were set.
Since that time, doctors and scientists have worked to figure out what exactly causes high blood pressure. Causes can vary from patient to patient and when looking at one particular patient, a doctor must ask questions and run other tests to gain the fullest clarity about why that patient has high blood pressure.
There is no cookie-cutter answer to what causes blood pressure because one patient may be healthy under the same circumstances, with the same diet and level of exercise, as one who suffers from high blood pressure. Often, genetics play a role in blood pressure and heart performance.
When a cause cannot be specifically determined for a particular patient's high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, the patient is said to have essential or primary high blood pressure. For other patients, a clear cause such as a medical issue, medication the patient is taking or even pregnancy can be identified. This clear cause results in what is referred to as secondary high blood pressure.
Low blood pressure, hypotension, is so varied from person to person that doctors must determine whether a low blood pressure is normal for each particular patient or whether there is cause for alarm.
Low blood pressure is generally considered an issue if there are other symptoms of a problem related to that reading, including dizziness, weakness, fainting or other noticeable symptoms.
Risk Factors in Blood Pressure
There is a multitude of causes for high blood pressure. These include:
- diseases or problems with:
- the heart
- nervous system
- blood vessels
- hormone levels and even the amount of water and salt in the body.
- Aging affects blood pressure because arterial walls become less flexible with age.
- stress levels and anxiety
- alcohol consumption and drug use
- sodium intake
- and family history also are risk factors for high blood pressure.
Low blood pressure can be caused within pregnancy due to the quickly expanding circulatory system that sustains both mother and child. Heart and endocrine problems are also causes, as are allergies, infection, poor diet, dehydration, blood loss and certain medications.
Treatment of Blood Pressure Problems
When a patient is diagnosed with problematic blood pressure, whether that pressure is high or low, medications may be prescribed or the physician may recommend lifestyle changes. Such changes to daily life may include:
- increased or decreased sodium consumption
- improved water intake
- dietary changes
- exercise regularity or intensity
- decreased alcohol intake or smoking
- stress reduction
- weight loss or other such alterations.
Blood pressure often improves when patients follow physician recommendations or prescribed treatments.