What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the artery walls. It rises during heartbeats and falls in between heartbeats. There are always two pressures expressed in blood pressure ranges, the systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure.
Blood pressure ranges are usually written using the systolic blood pressure number before or above the diastolic blood pressure number, for example 120/80 mmHg. The systolic blood pressure, the 120 as illustrated in the blood pressure chart, is the pressure reading as the heart pumps blood out from the ventricle into the veins.
The diastolic blood pressure, the 80 as illustrated in the blood pressure chart, is the resting pressure, which is between beats when the pressure decreases before the next heart pumping action.
High blood pressure is termed hypertension, low blood pressure is hypotension. If there is no obvious cause for hypertension, which is often the case, it is called primary hypertension. Secondary hypertension, the term given to only 5 to 10% of cases, can be caused by a number of factors, amongst them kidney or heart disease and hardening of the arteries.
What is considered high blood pressure?
Hypertension is according to the latest blood pressure guidelines now defined as a systolic reading of 130 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg or higher. This a change from the old blood pressure guidelines for hypertension, which was a systolic reading of 140 mm Hg or higher, and a diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg or higher.
Summary of the latest blood pressure guidelines:
- Normal Blood pressure: Under 120/80 mm Hg;
- Elevated Blood Pressure: A systolic blood pressure of 120-129 mm Hg and a diastolic blood pressure under 80 mm Hg;
- High Blood Pressure Stage 1: A systolic blood pressure 130-139 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure 80-89 mm Hg;
- High Blood Pressure Stage 2: A systolic blood pressure of a minimum of 140 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure of a minimum of 90 mm Hg;
- Hypertensive Crisis: A systolic blood pressure of more than 180 mm Hg or/and a diastolic blood pressure of more than 120 mm Hg.
Researchers have found that blood pressure changes at 4 phases throughout life: a quick increase throughout adolescent growth; a milder increase early on in adult years; an acceleration in the 40s; and by the age of 50, the normal average blood pressure ranges have increased to 129/85. During a period in late adult years, blood pressure will increase slowly and then reduces.
The primary causes of blood pressure increasing over a lifetime can be modified and could be focused on to help prevent heart disease: even though high blood pressure often has no obvious symptoms, this condition could lead to life threatening stroke and heart attacks, so a reduction in blood pressure is crucial for health.
According to one study, a decrease as well as increase in your blood pressure throughout middle age could significantly affect your lifetime cardiovascular disease risk.
Individuals that maintained or lowered blood pressure to normal blood pressure levels by 55 years old had the lowest lifetime cardiovascular disease risk of between 22% and 41%. In comparison, people who already had high blood pressure by 55 years old had a greater lifetime risk of between 42% and 69%.
Both avoiding high blood pressure throughout middle age or delaying the start of the development of high blood pressure seem to have a significant affect on a person’s remaining lifetime cardiovascular disease risk.
The study also found:
- Nearly 70% of all men that get hypertension during middle age will have a cardiovascular disease incident by 85 years old.
- Women that get hypertension by earlier middle age have a higher lifetime cardiovascular disease risk of 49.4% than those that have kept normal blood pressure until the age of 55.
- Women generally had higher increases in blood pressure throughout middle age.
- At an average of 55 years old, 40.8% of women and 25.7% of men had blood pressure levels that were normal; 47.5% of women and 49.4% of men had prehypertension (the 2017 blood pressure guidelines have eliminated the prehypertension category and is now labeled as stage 1 hypertension).
- The overall lifetime cardiovascular disease risk for people aged 55 years or more was 39.9% for women and 52.5% for men, after factoring in all blood pressure levels.
- The lifetime cardiovascular disease risk was higher among Blacks in comparison to Whites of the same sex, and went up with increasing blood pressure at middle age.
Risks of high blood pressure
1. Brain damage
The brain is dependent upon a nourishing blood supply to function correctly and survive. But hypertension can result in various complications, which includes:
Dementia is a brain disease which results in difficulties with thinking, speaking, reasoning, memory, vision and movement. Vascular dementia can happen from the narrowing and blocking of the arteries supplying the brain’s blood. It can also be a consequence of strokes as a result of a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Either way, hypertension could be the reason.
A stroke is when deprivation of oxygen and nutrients to the brain takes place, which causes brain cell death. Uncontrolled hypertension can result in stroke by the blood vessels in the brain being damaged and weakened, which causes the blood vessels to narrow, rupture or leak.
Hypertension can also contribute to blood clots forming in the arteries, causing blocked blood flow in the brain and possibly leading to a stroke.
2. Eye damage
Blood is supplied to the eyes by small and delicate blood vessels. They can also be damaged by hypertension just like other blood vessels:
Hypertension can damage blood vessels providing blood to the retina, resulting in a condition known as retinopathy. This condition can cause bleeding in the eye, which can lead to blurred vision and total vision loss.
In a condition known as choroidopathy, fluid accumulates below the retina due to a leaky blood vessel. Choroidopathy can lead to distorted vision and in some instances scarring that will impair vision.
In a condition known as optic neuropathy, the optic nerve is damaged by blocked blood flow. It can result in nerve cell death in the eyes, which can lead to bleeding within the eye or loss of vision.
3. Kidney damage
Excess fluid and waste is filtered from the blood by the kidneys, which is a process that is dependent on healthy blood vessels. The blood vessels in the kidneys as well as the blood vessels leading to the kidneys can be damaged when blood pressure is high, resulting in various forms of kidney disease.
When an aneurysm takes place in an artery that leads to the kidney, it’s known as a kidney artery aneurysm. After a while, high blood pressure levels in a weakened artery can result in a section to enlarge and form an aneurysm, a bulge in the blood vessel wall. Aneurysms can rupture and bring about internal bleeding.
Hypertension is one of the most common reasons for kidney failure because the large arteries which lead to the kidneys as well as the tiny blood vessels within the kidneys can be damaged. Kidneys cannot effectively filter waste from the blood if either of them are damaged, and because of this, dangerous fluid and waste levels can accumulate.
4. Heart damage
Uncontrolled hypertension can damage the heart in various ways.
Coronary artery disease has an effect on the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle. Blood does not flow freely through the arteries when they are narrowed as a result of coronary artery disease. A heart attack or irregular heart rhythms can be experienced when blood does not flow freely to the heart.
After a while, the strain on the heart caused by hypertension causes the heart muscle to weaken and work less efficiently. Eventually, the overwhelmed heart simply starts to wear out and results in heart failure.
An enlarged left heart can develop when hypertension forces the heart to work harder than needed to be able to pump blood to the body. This results in the left ventricle thickening or stiffening, which can increase heart attack risk.
5. Bone damage
The amount of calcium in the urine can increase from high blood pressure levels. An excessive elimination of calcium can result in loss of bone density and osteoporosis.
6. Sexual dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is much more likely to happen in men as they get older if they have hypertension. After a while, hypertension damages the blood vessel lining and will cause the arteries to harden and narrow, which restricts blood flow to the penis. The decrease in blood flow can make achieving and sustaining erections difficult for some men.
Women can also experience sexual dysfunction as a result of hypertension.
Check your blood pressure at home
The new blood pressure guidelines advise that blood pressure be measured regularly and it’s encouraged to make use of a home blood pressure monitor. Here is some advice on how to choose the best blood pressure monitor.
The best blood pressure monitor is a blood pressure cuff that fits around the upper arm. Finger and wrist monitors aren’t as accurate. Choose an automated blood pressure cuff with a self inflating cuff and a large, bright digital readout.
How to lower your blood pressure
1. Go smoke free to help lower your blood pressure
Every cigarette smoked raises blood pressure for a significant time after the cigarette is finished. Quitting smoking will help blood pressure go back to normal.
2. Drink less alcohol to help lower your blood pressure
Alcohol in moderation can potentially reduce blood pressure by approximately 4 mm Hg. Moderate alcohol consumption is generally 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
Consuming alcohol in excess can however increase blood pressure.
3. Consume less salt (sodium) to help lower your blood pressure
If you have hypertension, the smallest decrease of the sodium in the diet can reduce blood pressure by approximately 5 to 6 mm Hg. Sodium should generally be limited to 2,300 mg a day or less, although a lower sodium intake of 1,500 mg a day or less is better.
Eating fewer processed foods will help reduce sodium intake as most sodium is added during processing, with just a little amount of sodium occurring naturally in foods.
4. Maintain a healthy weight to help lower your blood pressure
Blood pressure typically increases as body weight increases. Being overweight can also result in sleep apnea, which increases blood pressure even more.
One of the best lifestyle changes for managing blood pressure is losing weight. The smallest amount of weight lost if overweight can help reduce blood pressure. Blood pressure can generally be reduced by approximately 1 mm Hg with every kilogram of weight lost.
5. Exercise more to help lower your blood pressure
If you already have high blood pressure, then exercising regularly for 150 minutes per week, or about half an hour most days of the week, can reduce blood pressure by approximately 5 to 8 mm Hg. Consistency is important, because blood pressure can go up again if you stop exercising. If blood pressure is elevated, exercise can help prevent hypertension.
Some kinds of aerobic exercise that can help to reduce blood pressure include walking, cycling, swimming or jogging. High-intensity interval training can be very effective for blood pressure reduction. Strength training can also help in reducing blood pressure. Consult your physician about creating an exercise program.
6. Stick to a healthy diet to help lower your blood pressure
If you have hypertension, blood pressure can be reduced by as much as 11 mm Hg with a diet that’s abundant in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fats. Potassium in vegetables and fruit can help reduce the effects of sodium on blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Chart
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