High blood pressure is nicknamed “the silent killer” because there are often no symptoms. While some people experience headaches or dizziness, the majority of people with high blood pressure feel just fine. These individuals will often think they have a normal blood pressure. The only way to know for sure if blood pressure is elevated is to measure it! A home blood pressure cuff is a very useful tool for people with hypertension and those that have a normal blood pressure resulting from prescription medication.
Patients should bring their cuffs with them to the doctor so they can check their machine against the one in the doctor’s office and be sure their home readings are correct. It’s also helpful for patients to write down blood pressure measurements made at home and bring those readings to office visits where they can review the numbers with the doctor or nurse. Some blood pressure monitors even store the blood pressure readings and the time the reading was taken, allowing a doctor to see what reading are at precisely different times during the day.
The blood pressure measurement has two numbers – systolic (sis-tah’-lick) and diastolic (di^-ah-stah’-lick). The systolic pressure is the
first number (or top number), which is the pressure in the blood vessels while the heart is pumping blood. The diastolic pressure is the
second number (or bottom number), which is the pressure in the blood vessels while the heart is resting between beats. Blood
pressure is read systolic over diastolic – for example, 120 over 80 or 120/80.
Systolic is measured when the walls of the blood vessels contract and diastolic is measured when the walls relax. Here’s how the new
federal guidelines break down regarding classification of hypertension:
o Normal Blood Pressure: Systolic less than 120 – Diastolic less than 80 (ex. 119/76)
o Pre-hypertension: Systolic 120-139 – Diastolic 80-89 (ex. 133/84)
o Stage one hypertension: Systolic 140-159 – Diastolic 90-99 (ex. 144/96)
o Stage two hypertension: Systolic 160 + – Diastolic 100 + (ex. 162/108)
Obviously, you want to keep your readings below 120/80. The lower you can get your blood pressure or closer to a
normal blood pressure you can achieve, without feeling faint when you stand up, the better.
Often individuals with hypertension will complain of feeling dizzy, or faint. The feeling may increase when the individual
stands or with increased physical activity. One cause for this feeling of faintness is that there is not enough pressure to
adequately supply the brain with oxygenated blood. Lower than normal blood pressure condition is called hypotension.
This is another important reason to have the ability to check your own blood pressure. Individuals who take blood
pressure medications will often complain of feeling faint or dizzy, especially when starting a new medication that may be
“too strong”. Checking blood pressure and recording it on a regular basis will allow you to work with you healthcare
practitioner to regulate you medication and adequately maintain a normal blood pressure.
If left untreated, hypertension can lead to the following medical conditions:
o arteriosclerosis, also called atherosclerosis
o heart attack
o enlarged heart
o kidney damage
Arteriosclerosis is hardening of the arteries. High blood pressure can make the artery walls thicken and harden. When artery walls
thicken, the inside of the blood vessel narrows. Blood clots also can get trapped in narrowed arteries, blocking the flow of blood.
Arteries narrowed by arteriosclerosis may not deliver enough blood to body systems. Reduced or blocked blood flow to the heart can
cause a heart attack. If an artery to the brain is blocked, a stroke can result.
Hypertension makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body. The extra workload can make the heart muscle thicken
and stretch. When the heart becomes too enlarged it becomes weak and ineffective, making it unable to pump enough blood through
the body. If the hypertension is not treated, the heart may fail.
If hypertension thickens the arteries to the kidneys, less waste will be filtered from the blood. If the kidneys fail and
wastes build up in the blood, there could be poisoning of the body system.
The primary means of controlling hypertension and maintaining normal blood pressure is early intervention. One of
the main components of early intervention is early recognition. Early recognition involves self monitoring of blood
pressure and coordination with your doctor or other health care practitioner. Be proactive by obtaining your personal
blood pressure monitor, measuring your blood pressure and working with your doctor to maintain a normal blood
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