High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the medical term used to describe a force against which the blood must be pumped in the wall of the artery. The measurement of blood pressure is the product of the flow of blood times the resistance in the blood vessels. Your physician will measure your blood pressure and give it a numerical value by placing an air balloon around the upper portion of the arm and measuring the millimeters of mercury at which your blood is first able to be forced through the artery (the top number or a systolic reading) and the pressure at which the blood is no longer forced against an external pressure (the bottom number or diastolic reading).
The complications of high blood pressure and hypertension will include heart disease, heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, peripheral artery disease and aortic aneurysms to name just a few. Thankfully, with increasing public service announcements and public awareness high blood pressure has become the second most common reason that individuals seek medical attention in the United States. This does not mean that the number of individuals who suffer from hypertension has risen but rather that with increasing media attention and education more people are recognizing that the complications of high blood pressure can be averted with proper treatment. (1)
The normal range of blood pressure was determined by covering 95% of the values of the general population when it was first determined. This means that 5% of the results will fall outside of the normal range and will be considered high blood pressure. Normally, a range for a specific medical test is determined on a patient’s age, size, sex or ethnic background. In the case of high blood pressure use numbers are adjusted slightly for age but does not consider any other factor.
An individuals blood pressure will fluctuate depending upon specific factors, not the least of which is stress. However, people whose blood pressure is consistently higher than the norm are diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension. This means that blood pressure for an adult is higher than 140/90. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is indirectly responsible for the deaths resulting from a heart attack, stroke and kidney failure and according to several research studies the risk of dying from a heart attack is directly linked to systolic hypertension. In other words, the higher your blood pressure the higher your risk. (2)
High blood pressure will typically develop over many years and will affect nearly everyone eventually. Fortunately it can be easily detected with a quick test in the physician’s office which is why many urgent care centers, gynecologists, eye physicians and primary care physicians will all take blood pressure readings with each visit in order to screen as many people as possible. Once you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure you can work with your physician to control it and reduce your risks of any complications.
Unfortunately, hypertension is often been called the silent killer because most people who have high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even when the blood pressure readings are dangerously high. Some people with early-stage high blood pressure can experience a dull headache, a dizzy spell or a few nosebleeds but these symptoms are not typical and don’t usually occur until the high blood pressure has reached life-threatening stages.
Make sure that you have your blood pressure taken at least every two years starting at the age of 20. You will want to be more concerned if you have a family member with heart disease, kidney disease or a past history of high blood pressure. Any opportunity that presents itself, such as a visit to the eye doctor or the urgent care center, should be used to get your blood pressure readings taken. However, it is not necessary to run to your physician and have your blood pressure readings taken every month.
By keeping track of your blood pressure readings and watching for any elevations over the years you’ll be able to take your first step towards reducing your risk for heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
(1) American Diabetes Association: High Blood Pressure
(2) Chest: Blood Pressure and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: What are the Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Johns Hopkins Health Alerts: High Blood Pressure
American Heart Association: The State of Your Blood Pressure
Center for disease Control and Prevention: Getting Blood Pressure Under Control