Blood pressure is the force that blood makes against blood vessel walls. The more blood pumped from the heart and the narrower the arteries are, the higher the pressure. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is defined as blood pressure that is consistently at or above 140/90 mmHg. Untreated hypertension can lead to serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Genetics, lifestyle choices, and medical history can all contribute to high blood pressure. Hypertension doesn’t always have symptoms and may go unnoticed for years, but can be easily detected with proper screening. Once a person is diagnosed with high blood pressure, steps can be taken to control the symptoms.
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High blood pressure shouldn’t go undiagnosed, so it’s important to schedule regular health examinations. A doctor measures blood pressure using an arm cuff and pump and valve instrument. A single high reading is not enough for a diagnosis. Since high blood pressure is a persistent condition, diagnosis must take place through two or more blood pressure readings taken at separate occasions.
The four blood pressure categories include normal (no treatment needed), prehypertension (some indication of risk factors), Stage 1 and Stage 2. Your doctor can determine which applies to you and recommend appropriate treatment.
- Stage 1 has no known cause and develops gradually over time. Many people develop primary hypertension as they age.
- Stage 2 is caused by a medical condition or unhealthy lifestyle factors. The condition develops quickly and is accompanied by serious symptoms.
Symptoms of hypertension include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Pounding or irregular heartbeat in chest, neck or ears
- Severe headaches
- Vision problems
- Blood in urine
These symptoms may be associated with other health issues or heart conditions as well. If any of these occur, seek prompt medical attention.
A doctor may prescribe dietary or exercise changes, medication or a combination of both to treat high blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle is important to manage blood pressure. This includes a low-sodium diet, regular exercise, no tobacco use, a healthy weight and low stress.
Oral medication may be necessary to reduce blood pressure. Two or more medications are often more effective than one, and commonly include:
- Diuretics to reduce blood volume. Doctors often prescribe this medication first.
- Beta blockers to slow the heartbeat. Beta blockers are used in combination with other blood pressure medication.
- ACE inhibitors to relax blood vessels.
- ARBs to prevent the blood vessels from becoming narrow.
- Calcium channel blockers to relax the blood vessels. This medication is used to treat older people and African Americans who suffer from high blood pressure.
- Renin inhibitors to lower blood pressure.
Your doctor may also advise taking a daily aspirin to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders.