Answers to your frequently asked questions about hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure.
1. What Causes High Blood Pressure?
While the cause of high blood pressure in most people remains unclear, a variety of conditions -- such as getting little or no exercise, poor diet, obesity, older age, and genetics -- can lead to hypertension.
2. What Is Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure?
The blood pressure reading is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written as systolic pressure, the force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats, over diastolic pressure, the blood pressure between heartbeats. For example, a blood pressure reading is written as 120/80 mm Hg, or "120 over 80". The systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80.
3. What Is a Normal Blood Pressure?
The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure has classified blood pressure measurements into several categories:
"Normal" blood pressure is systolic pressure less than 120 and diastolic pressure less than 80 mmHg
"Prehypertension" is systolic pressure of120-139 or diastolic pressure of 80-89 mmHg
Stage 1 Hypertension is blood pressure greater than systolic pressure of 140-159 or diastolic pressure of 90-99 mmHg or greater.
Stage 2 Hypertension is systolic pressure of 160 or greater or diastolic pressure of 100 or greater.
4. What Health Problems Are Associated With High Blood Pressure?
Several potentially serious health conditions are linked to high blood pressure, including:
Atherosclerosis: a disease of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque, or fatty material, on the inside walls of the blood vessels. Hypertension contributes to this buildup by putting added stress and force on the artery walls.
Heart Disease: heart failure (the heart can't adequately pump blood), ischemic heart disease (the heart tissue doesn't get enough blood), and hypertensive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) are all associated with high blood pressure.
Kidney Disease: Hypertension can damage the blood vessels and filters in the kidneys, so that the kidneys cannot excrete waste properly.
Stroke: Hypertension can lead to stroke, either by contributing to the process of atherosclerosis (which can lead to blockages and/or clots), or by weakening the blood vessel wall and causing it to rupture.
Eye Disease: Hypertension can damage the very small blood vessels in the retina.
5. How Do I Know if I Have High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure often doesn't have any symptoms, so you usually don't feel it. For that reason, hypertension is usually diagnosed by a health care professional on a routine visit. This is especially important if you have a close relative who has hypertension or embody risk factors for it.
If your blood pressure is extremely high, you may have unusually strong headaches, chest pain, and heart failure (especially difficulty breathing and poor exercise tolerance). If you have any of these symptoms, seek treatment immediately.
6. What Is the Treatment for High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure treatment usually involves making lifestyle changes and, if necessary, drug therapy.
Lifestyle changes for high blood pressure include:
Eating a healthy diet, such as the DASH diet.
Reducing the amount of salt in your diet.
Regular aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking).
Limiting alcohol drinking.
High blood pressure drugs include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, diuretics, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.
7. What Are the Side Effects of High Blood Pressure Drugs?
As is true with any medication, high blood pressure drugs have side effects. Among the most common are the following:
Diuretics: headache, weakness, joint or muscle pain, low potassium blood levels.
ACE inhibitors: dry and persistent cough, headache, diarrhea, high potassium blood levels.
Angiotensin receptor blockers: fatigue, dizziness or fainting, muscle pain, diarrhea.
Calcium channel blockers: dizziness, trouble breathing, heart rhythm problems, ankle swelling.
Beta-blockers: dizziness or lightheadedness, decreased sexual ability, drowsiness, low heart rate.
8. What Type of Diet Should I Follow if I Have High Blood Pressure
A healthy diet, such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, is very effective at lowering high blood pressure. The DASH diet calls for a certain number of daily servings from various food groups, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The following steps can also help:
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods.
Eating less of foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, such as fried foods.
Eating more whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts.
Eating less red meat and sweets.
Eating foods that are high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
9. When Should I Call My Doctor About High Blood Pressure?
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, it's important to see your doctor on a regular basis. He or she can answer your questions during these visits.
However, there may be other times when you may need to speak to your doctor. For instance:
If you aren't responding to the prescribed treatment and your blood pressure is still high.
If you are having any side effects from the blood pressure medication. If this happens, your doctor may wish to adjust the dosage of the medication or put you on another medication.
10. Are There any Drugs that Cause High Blood Pressure?
Some drugs that you take for another condition may cause high blood pressure. These include amphetamines, Ritalin, corticosteroids, hormones (including birth control pills), migraine medications, cyclosporine, and erythropoietin.
Also, many over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (for example, allergy, cold, and asthma medications and appetite suppressants) can cause hypertension.
Don't stop taking any prescribed medication, including high blood pressure drugs, on your own without talking to your doctor.