High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (HBP), also known as hypertension, refers to high pressure in the arteries, which carry blood from the pumping heart to all the tissues and organs of the body. It does not refer to emotional tension although stress can temporarily increase blood pressure.
Normal blood pressure is below 120/80; blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called "pre-hypertension", and a blood pressure of 140/90 or above is considered high.
Cardiologists at St. Vincent’s Regional Heart & Vascular Center can help you manage your high blood pressure and stay healthy.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure
The top number represents the systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood forward into the arteries. The bottom number, which represents the diastolic pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries as the heart relaxes after the contraction, when the heart is receiving blood returning from the body. Therefore, diastolic pressure gauges the lowest pressure of blood flowing through the arteries.
If either the systolic or diastolic blood pressure becomes elevated, it puts the individual at greater risk of developing heart disease, atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, kidney disease, eye problems and stroke. Chronic high blood pressure can result in these complications. Therefore, it is critically important to diagnose high blood pressure and take steps to lower it. Cardiologists at St. Vincent’s Regional Heart & Vascular Center with their specialized training can help you manage your condition.
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure affects approximately one in three adults in the United States, about 73 million people. It also effects two million American teens and children, so it represents a major health concern nationally.
High blood pressure symptoms
Frequently called the “silent killer,” high blood pressure may not cause any noticeable symptoms initially. But once an organ of the body is affected, its damaging consequences are revealed.
It is important to have a physician evaluate your pressure during an annual physical before undiagnosed high blood pressure causes you to have a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure or impaired vision. If any problem is detected, your physician will monitor your pressure regularly, help you make lifestyle changes and treat you with the appropriate therapy before any significant complications develop.
Symptoms that may indicate severe high blood pressure include:
- shortness of breath,
- blurred vision.
High blood pressure risk factors:
- Age - Risk increases with age
- Race - High blood pressure is more common among blacks, developing at an earlier age than in whites. Resulting stroke and heart attack are also more common in blacks.
- Family history - Appears to be an inherited predisposition
- Obesity - As the amount of blood circulating in your body increases due to increased weight, so does artery wall pressure.
- Sedentary lifestyle - Inactivity leads to higher heart rates which exert a stronger pressure on your arteries. Extra weight also results from inactivity.
- Tobacco - The use of tobacco (smoking or chewing) raises blood pressure temporarily and also damages the lining of artery walls, narrowing them, adding to the increase in blood pressure. Secondhand smoke can also raise your blood pressure.
- Sodium - An overabundance of dietary sodium causes fluid retention, and an increase of blood pressure. Packaged foods contain high levels of sodium
- Dietary potassium deficiency - Potassium helps balance cell sodium content and if you don’t get enough, you will retain too much sodium in the blood.
- Vitamin D deficiency - It is thought that Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that in turn impacts your blood pressure.
- Alcohol - Heavy drinking can temporarily raise your blood pressure, through release of hormones that increase blood flow and heart rate.
- Stress - High stress level can lead to a temporary, but significant, increase in blood pressure. Those who try to cope by eating, drinking or smoking to compensate, only risk even more problems with blood pressure.
- Chronic conditions - Chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea may increase high blood pressure. Sometimes pregnancy also contributes to high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured with an inflatable arm cuff and a pressure-measuring gauge. The reading consists of two numbers, the top one measures the systolic pressure (that of the beating heart) and the bottom, the diastolic (pressure in your arteries between beats).
Your doctor will repeat blood pressure readings over the course of several appointments before making a definitive diagnosis of high blood pressure. This is due to the fact that blood pressure varies throughout the day, and may go up during a visit to the doctor, as a result of anxiety.
If the results indicate any signs of high blood pressure, the doctor may have you undergo some other tests.
Tests for high blood pressure include:
Lifestyle changes such as adapting diet and exercise plans, quitting smoking and losing weight, can sometimes be sufficient to lower blood pressure. Lowering you dietary intake of salt is also recommended. Successful intervention early on can decrease your risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.
But when these lifestyle changes are not enough, your cardiologist at St. Vincent’s Regional Heart & Vascular Center will create a treatment plan for you using hypertensive medication therapy. Some of these include diuretics, angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, or angiotensin receptor blocking (ARB) drugs, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors, alpha blockers, alpha-beta blockers, central-acting agents and vasodilators.
With the results of an exam and testing, your St. Vincent’s cardiologist will determine your course of treatment using one or a combination of these medications.
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