What is the meaning of high blood pressure? Are the effects and risks of untreated HBP life-threatening? What causes it and how can it be diagnosed? Get deep insight into how you can manage, lower, treat and prevent elevated blood pressure. Also, explore the foods to eat and the foods to avoid when you have HBP.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure (often abbreviated as HBP) is also known as hypertension or arterial hypertension. Before considering the definition of high HBP, it is vital to first understand a few facts about blood pressure (abbreviated as BP). This is the only sure way to get the in-depth insight into HBP plight and how to deal with it.
What Is Blood Pressure?
What does blood pressure mean? Understanding blood pressure will no doubt enable you comprehend high blood pressure much better. Blood pressure (BP) is the amount of force blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels (arteries) as it circulates in the body. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. Blood pressure is determined by taking measurement using a blood pressure meter (also known as a sphygmomanometer). Blood pressure measurement gives readings consisting of two numbers: a top number and a bottom number. The numbers denote systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The unit used to measure blood pressure is millimetres of mercury (mmHg)
Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure
The top number represents systolic blood pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats. The heart is said to beat when its muscles contract to push blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Since contraction of the heart exerts stronger force, systolic blood pressure is higher. It is consequently represented by a greater pressure number.
The bottom number represents diastolic blood pressure. What is diastolic blood pressure? It is the pressure exerted on the walls of the heart when the heart relaxes between beats. Relaxation exerts weaker force on the wall of the arteries. This means diastolic pressure is always lower than systolic pressure. It is hence represented by a number with less value than the one representing systolic blood pressure.
For example, when the blood pressure is given as 120/80 (120 over 80), it means that the systolic blood pressure is 120 mmHg while the diastolic blood pressure is 80 mmHg.
Blood Pressure Readings and Numbers – What do They Mean?
Blood pressure readings are clustered to form blood pressure ranges with various implications. Blood pressure levels are usually classified into six categories. Each category denotes a range of blood pressure with certain significance. The six categories outlined below are for adults.
- Less than 90/60 – These are Low blood pressure numbers. This means that you have low blood pressure. In other words, your pressure is below normal blood pressure.
- 90/60 to 120/80 – This is normal blood pressure reading. It is the ideal blood pressure everyone yearns to have. It is the perfect pressure
- 120/80 to 139/89. – These numbers represent pre-high blood pressure (borderline hypertension). Pre-high blood pressure is considered as an indication that you may develop hypertension.
- 140/90 to 159/99 – These pressure numbers imply stage 1 hypertension.
- 160/100 to 179/109 – These pressure numbers indicate that the person has stage 2 hypertension. It is considered to be dangerously elevated blood pressure.
- Greater than 180/110. These are commonly known as Hypersensitive Crisis This is extremely dangerous blood pressure. It calls for immediate emergency care.
Blood Pressure Chart
A blood pressure chart or a blood pressure table is a diagrammatic representation of various ranges of blood pressure, their meanings and implications. It shows ranges for Low Blood Pressure, Normal Blood Pressure, Pre-High Blood Pressure, High Blood Pressure (stage 1 and 2) and Hypersensitive Crisis readings. Doctors classify blood pressure by age. So, there are different blood pressure charts for adults and for children.
High Blood Pressure Definition
What does High Blood Pressure mean? Mayo Clinic defines it as “a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems”. But how high is high blood pressure? What is considered to high should be pressure levels that pose health risks. Elevated blood pressure readings with systolic number 140 mmHg and above or Diastolic number 90 mmHg and above are known to cause health problems and are thus classified as HBP. Hypertension can be categorised into four categories according to the chart above.
- Hypertension stage 1
- Hypertension stage 2
- Hypersensitive Crisis (malignant or accelerated hypertension)
A hypertensive crisis describes severely elevated blood pressure that reaches readings of 180/110 or greater over a short period of time. Hypertensive crisis is classified into either hypertensive urgency or hypertensive emergency depending on whether it is accompanied by organ damage or not
Hypertensive urgency is hypertension which is not accompanied by evident organ damage. The elevated blood pressure can be treated with oral medications to lower the BP gradually over a period of one to two days.
Hypertensive emergency (also called malignant hypertension or accelerated hypertension) is hypertension accompanied with serious damage to at least one of the body organs, especially the brain, kidney, heart and lungs. It calls for emergency treatment and the blood pressure should be slowly lowered within minutes or a few hours.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
What is high blood pressure caused by and why do I have it? These – and many others – are the common questions that rule the minds of those who have been diagnosed with HBP. So, how do you get it? Although the precise causes of hypertension have not yet been fully established, there are many factors, habits, disorders and conditions that have been connected with its development. There are two main types of HBP classified according to their causes.
Primary High Blood Pressure
It is also called Essential Hypertension. It is the type that develops gradually over many years as one grows older and does not have any known causes.
Secondary High Blood Pressure
This is the type of HBP is caused by other underlying diseases, conditions, disorders and lifestyle issues. What can cause secondary hypertension include the following:
- Smoking – Does smoking cause elevated blood pressure? Indeed for many years now, smoking and high blood pressure have been closely associated with each other. The nicotine in tobacco smoke stimulates the body to produce adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart to beat faster and raise the blood pressure.
- Obesity (overweight) – Obesity or overweight is another common reason for high blood pressure.
- Lack of exercise – Lack of adequate physical activity is one of the indisputable reasons for high pressure.
- Salt: Does too much salt cause hypertension? Salt contains sodium. Too much sodium in your blood stream causes your body to hold extra water in order to carry (wash) the excess salt out of your body. The extra fluid due to extra water in the blood vessels exerts more pressure on the blood vessels. This may result in increased blood pressure.
- Alcohol – Heavy drinking on a daily basis could also be another cause of hypertension. There is a close link between alcohol and high blood pressure.
- Stress – Can stress cause HBP? How are stress and high blood pressure connected? According to Mayo Clinic, stressful situations cause the body to produce a surge of hormones. The hormones make the heart to beat faster and the blood vessels to narrow. As a result, blood pressure temporarily rises until the stress goes away. It is not yet established whether stress alone can cause HBP.
- Age – Statistics have consistently shown that HBP rate increase with age. It is not known why instances of HBP among older people are high. However, older people tend to be susceptible to diabetes, kidney problems and other illnesses, which are known to cause hypertension.
- Genetics – Genetic variations may elevate blood pressure. “An international research consortium identified 29 genetic variations that influence blood pressure.” [National Institute of Health]
- Hereditary (Family history) – Is high blood pressure hereditary? There is evidence that high blood pressure runs in families. The risk for developing HBP is high if there are members in the family with it [National Kidney Foundation].
- Kidney disease – Hypertension is often known to cause kidney diseases. But it has also been established that kidney disease can cause hypertension. Hypertension caused by kidney disease is known as renal hypertension [WEBMD].
- Adrenal disorders – The normal production of adrenaline is controlled by adrenal medulla. Our bodies require adrenaline to maintain blood pressure. “A tumor that arises from the adrenal medulla and overproduces adrenaline can be a deadly tumor because of the severe elevation in blood pressure it causes.” [WEBMD]
- Thyroid disorders –Thyroid disorders may cause the thyroid gland to produce inadequate thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or excess thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism). Both cases may lead to development of HBP.
- Sleep apnea – This is a condition in which a person temporarily stops breathing while asleep. Sleep apnea results in inadequate oxygen in the body which may damage the lining of the walls of the blood vessel. This may make blood vessels to be unable regulate blood pressure effectively.
- Anxiety – Just like stress, anxiety in itself can only cause temporary high blood pressure. However, if not managed, repeated episodes of anxiety for a long period of time may lead to habits like smoking, drinking and overeating, which cause long-term HBP.
- Dehydration – Can dehydration cause high blood pressure? There is relationship between dehydration and blood pressure. Prolonged dehydration makes the blood volume in the blood vessels to increase as the body tries to hold onto sodium. The increased blood volume results in elevated blood pressure.
- Cholesterol – Does high cholesterol cause hypertension? High blood pressure and high cholesterol also are linked. Cholesterol plague causes arteries to become hardened and narrowed. As a result, blood pressure rises abnormally as the heart strain to pump blood through them.
- Pregnancy – High blood pressure during pregnancy is a common phenomenon. Pregnancy may worsen existing hypertension or cause hypertension to develop.
- Medications – Medications such as pain relievers, antidepressants known to cause HBP. Drugs used after organ transplant are account for high blood pressure after surgery.
- Supplements – According to Mayo Clinic, “herbal supplements, including ginseng, licorice and ephedra” can also cause hypertension.
- Birth Control pills – Some women develop hypertension after taking birth control pills.
- Menopause – Hormonal variations related to menopause may cause certain changes in your body, e.g. weight gain, which could elevate blood pressure.
- Race/ethnicity – Studies have shown that race is a risk factor for HBP. For example “High blood pressure is more common in African American adults than in Caucasian or Hispanic American adults.” [National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute]
- Gender – Men are generally more predisposed to developing hypertension than women.
- Diabetes – Type 2 diabetes increases the chances of narrowing in the arteries, whim in turn may lead to development of HBP. This is one way in which diabetes and high blood pressure are associated.
High Blood Pressure Signs and Symptoms
What does high blood pressure feel like? There is a common mistaken belief that people with hypertension literally experience the strain exerted on their blood vessels. In actual sense, HBP is a condition with no definite symptom or sign at all in most cases. In fact HBP is commonly called ‘the silent killer’. This is due to the fact that many people do not know or sense that they have the condition, until it worsens.
To make it even more challenging, those thought to be signs of high blood pressure are also listed for many other diseases, conditions and infections. However, there are symptoms and signs that are commonly associated with hypertension. These Signs and symptoms do not at all ascertain that one has the condition. The best is to know your blood pressure numbers by measurement.
- Persistent headache – Can it cause headaches? For a long period of time now, headache and hypertension have been closely linked. In most instances, high blood pressure headaches are characterised by recurrence and endurance. In case you experience such a symptom, get urgent tested for HBP.
- Blurred Vision (double vision) – Lack of sharpness of vision which result in the inability to see fine details may be a symptom of HBP.
- Blood in urine (pink color) – Pink urine or blood in urine may also indicate that you have hypertension.
- Decreased Urine Output – A drop in urine output could be a symptom of hypertension.
- Nose bleeds – Can high blood pressure cause nose bleeds? Repeated nose bleeding is a common sign of high blood pressure but does not confirm that you have HBP. Get tested to find the cause of your nose bleed.
- Shortness of breath – Hypertension may cause the heart muscle to thicken, reduces the space left for blood to flow from the lungs into the heart. This causes blood to build up in the lungs, causing shortness of breath [Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD , Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)]
- Dizziness – Dizziness and high blood pressure may have a connection. It is considered to be one of signs of hypertension. High blood pressure dizziness is persistent.
- Confusion – Change to the mind status and confusion are common symptoms of high blood pressure
- Fatigue – Does HBP make you tired? Indeed, fatigue can be a symptom of those with HBP condition.
- Facial flushing – People with HBP may experience facial Flushing, although there are very many other reasons for facial flushing
- Chest Pain – HBP is the most common cause of chest pain, although there are other causes of chest pain. Chest pain can be a little bit relied on as a symptoms of high blood pressure.
- Swollen legs – Leg swelling is caused by fluid build-up in the lower legs and ankles as the overworked heart muscle less effective at pushing the blood around the body.
- Nausea and vomiting – Elevated blood pressure may be a reason for nausea and vomiting.
- Pounding Sensation (in Chest, Neck, Ears) – Turbulent blood flow caused by HBP condition may make you ‘hear your heart beat’ in the chest, neck and ears.
Symptoms of Hypertensive Crisis
A hypertensive crisis describes a severe increase in blood pressure. Warning signs and symptoms indicating extremely HBP include:
- Severe headaches
- Severe anxiety
- Shortness of breath
- Nose bleeds
- Severe chest pain
- Severe headache
- Much Confusion
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased sweating
Effects of High Blood Pressure – Impaired Body Systems
You need to be aware of what happens when you have hypertension. The side effects of this condition are diverse and complex. They can be summarised in terms of:
- Impaired circulatory system – The overworked heart thickens. The arteries are narrowed and hardened. There is build-up of plaques and cholesterol in the narrowed arteries. This renders the circulatory system inefficient and leads to development of circulatory system conditions and diseases.
- Impaired central nervous system – Narrowed, damaged or blocked arteries in the brain lead to insufficient supply or cut off blood supply to various parts of the brain. This leads to problems in processes that are coordinated by the brain e.g. memory, reasoning and speech. Impaired blood circulation in the eyes due to damaged or narrowed blood vessels lead to kills nerve cells in the eyes. This may affect vision.
- Impaired Excretory System – Damaged and narrowed blood vessels in the kidney make the kidneys inefficient. This may lead to kidney related high blood pressure side effects.
- Weakened skeletal System – Calcium maintains strong and healthy bones. Inefficient functioning of the kidneys to filter urine may lead to loss of calcium through urine. This cause the bones to become weak and susceptible to fractures
- Sexual Malfunction – Erectile dysfunction (Impotence) in men may be caused by lack of adequate supply of blood to the pennies due to damaged blood vessels leading to it. In women, insufficient supply of blood to the vagina may result in vaginal dryness, painful intercourse. This leads to unfulfilling sexual life in both men and women.
Risks of High Blood Pressure – What Can it Lead to?
What are the risks of hypertension? Is it dangerous? Some of the consequences of elevated blood pressure are dire and life threatening, especially when proper management and treatment is not administered promptly. Being conversant with the dangers of HBP can actually motivate you to prevent or manage and treat this deadly condition seriously. Untreated risks of HBP include:
- Heart attack or angina – sudden lack of supply of blood to the heart muscle caused by blockage of blood vessels within the heart.
- Heart failure – inefficiency in the functioning of the heart, which often follows heart attack.
- Peripheral artery disease – a situation in which peripheral arteries to the legs, stomach, arms, and head get narrow.
- Atherosclerosis – This refers to fatty build-up in the blood vessels (arteries). This may cause the blood vessels to become hardened
- Stroke – It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is inadequate or is inhibited.
- Kidney damage – Due to narrowed and weakened blood vessels in the kidney. It is surprising but understandable that kidney disease can cause hypertension and hypertension can also in other circumstances be the cause kidney disease.
- Aneurysm – Bulging of blood vessels after weakening due to high pressure exerted on their walls.
- Loss of memory – Due to inadequate blood supply to some parts of the brain as a result of damaged blood vessels that carry blood to the brain.
- Loss of vision – Due to thickening, narrowing or torn blood vessels in the eyes
- Metabolic syndrome – Such as increase in cholesterol, and insulin among other conditions.
High Blood Pressure Test and Diagnosis
Diagnosing hypertension involves taking blood pressure tests using high blood pressure testing equipment known as a blood pressure meter, a blood pressure monitor or a sphygmomanometer. Care should be taken. If proper guidelines are not followed during the blood test, the results may not reflect the reality.
Stress, smoking, caffeine, cold temperatures, physical activity, some medications may cause your blood pressure to rise temporarily. You need to abstain from these factors before taking the test. Otherwise the test may lead to wrong diagnosis.
You need to remain relaxed during the check up to avoid triggering physiological processes that may cause temporal elevation of your blood pressure. Many a time, patients tense during the blood test making it difficult to get accurate results.
Your doctor may need to check your blood pressure a number of times to ensure that he/she gets constant and correct results that that are not influenced by other factors. This will lead to right diagnosis.
How to Manage High Blood Pressure
Managing high blood pressure becomes handy in case you are diagnosed with it. You need to learn what to do to deal with the condition effectively. To manage HBP, there are a number of issues you need to be conversant with. They include:
- Take your treatment of hypertension very seriously. In addition, strictly follow the doctor’s advice on the blood pressure medication administered to you.
- Learn how to lower blood pressure and firmly follow all the guidelines necessary to effectively reduce it. Embrace the lifestyle changes prescribed for you in order to decrease high blood pressure.
- Acquire a good blood pressure monitor and use it to carry out pressure monitoring exercise regularly and periodically. Report any progress or anomaly to your doctor to enable him/her advice you appropriately.
- Learn the precautions for HBP and observe them always. Knowledge on first aid for high blood pressure may also be necessary to deal with signs and symptoms such as nose bleeds and chest pain.
High Blood Pressure Treatment and Medication
Treatment of hypertension entails use of prescribed medication, embracing healthy lifestyle, healthy diet and stress management. The treatment is always aimed at lowering your blood pressure to normal levels. The type of treatment your doctor will choose for you will depend on the many factors. These factors include the causes, stage and severity of your HBP condition. Extremely high blood pressure may require that emergency measures be taken.
There are so many types of drugs used in hypertension treatment. Accepted blood pressure medications include:
- Diuretics – They assist the kidneys to remove excess water and salt from the body, which in turn lowers blood pressure
- Renin inhibitors – They slow down the production of renin in the kidney. Renin is an enzyme that stimulates chemical processes that raise in blood pressure.
- Beta blockers – They block particular nerve and hormonal signals to the heart and blood vessels. This causes the heart to beat more gently and less vigorously. It also relaxes the walls of the arteries. All these result in decreased blood pressure.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – They constrain the production of angiotension II hormone, which is responsible for the narrowing of blood vessels. This leads to reduced blood pressure.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) – They shield blood vessels from angiotensin II hormone which may cause the blood vessels to narrow. Hence the blood vessels remain relaxed and wide.
- Calcium channel blockers – They prevent calcium from infiltrating into heart and blood vessels, letting them both to be free and relaxed.
- Alpha blockers – They decrease nerve impulses which stiffen blood vessels. This allows blood to flow more freely and easily.
- Alpha-beta blockers – They reduce nerve impulses and slow down heartbeat thereby decreasing blood pressure.
- Vasodilators – They relax the muscles in walls of the blood vessel, making them relax and widen. This lowers blood pressure.
Over the counter high blood pressure medication may also be used, but may not be as effective. It is important to consult your healthcare professional before using any of the OTC medications or supplements as treatment for high blood pressure. Some of the over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements that may lower your blood pressure include:
- Vitamin C supplements
- Calcium supplements
- Potassium supplements
- Magnesium supplements
How to Lower High Blood Pressure Fast & Naturally
If you yearn to know how to reduce blood pressure quickly, below is a list of measures that may help you reduce blood pressure almost immediately. If you want quick results, you need to embrace the measures faster and more seriously.
These measures work best if your condition is not severe.
- Increase Physical activity
- Quit alcohol consumption
- Limit caffeine consumption
- Avoid tobacco
- Cut down on your weight
- Reduce your stress
- Eat plenty of foods that lower HBP
- Avoid or moderate on foods that increase HBP
Natural Remedies for High Blood Pressure
There are a number of home remedies for high blood pressure that are believed to work.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Aloe Vera
- Hibiscus Tea
- Cayenne Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Vitamin D
- Celery Seed
- Coconut Water
- French Lavender
- Cat’s Claw
High Blood Pressure Diet – Dash Diet (Foods to Eat and Foods to Avoid)
Doctors have recommended healthy diet for hypertension like the dash diet. It is an eating plan aimed at lowering blood pressure and fixing other lifestyle conditions without medication. “The dash diet has been endorsed by The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; The American Heart Association; The Dietary Guidelines for Americans; and the US guidelines for treatment of high blood pressure” [dashdiet.org]. The blood pressure diet advises on the foods to eat and the foods to avoid.
Foods to Eat In Hypertension Diet
- More fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat dairy foods
- Whole grain products
- White meat (fish, poultry)
- Nuts (ground nuts, cashew nuts and peanuts)
- Foods that contain plenty of magnesium, potassium and calcium
Foods to Avoid in Hypertension Diet:
- Too much Fatty foods
- Foods that contain much cholesterol
- Too much red meat
- A lot of sweets
Foods That Lower Blood Pressure
What foods are good for high blood pressure? It is vital to know the foods that lower elevated blood pressure. Regular use of such foods will help reduce blood pressure. The list below gives the best foods for hypertension.
- Skim Milk
- Sunflower seeds
- White potatoes
- Dark Chocolate
Foods to avoid with high blood pressure
Just as there are foods that help lower HBP, there are others which are to be avoided because they worsen the condition. If used, these foods should be taken with moderation. Some of the foods to avoid if you have hypertension include:
- Whole Milk
- Red Meat
- Table Salt
- Energy Drinks
- Frozen Pot Pies
Living With High Blood Pressure
Living with High blood pressure is at times inevitable. In case your hypertension condition is not completely curable, adopt healthy lifestyle changes that will keep your blood pressure low. Avoid worry and anxiety regarding your condition as these will only worsen it Follow your treatment plan closely and work with your professional health care provider. Adhere to all pieces of advice you get from him or her.
Monitoring your blood pressure from home may be necessary in this situation. You may need to acquire a good blood monitoring device for this purpose. Report any worrying readings to your health care provider immediately you notice them.
In case you develop hypertension during pregnancy, let your professional health care provider closely monitor you and both you and your baby after birth. This way he or she will provide special care that may lower chances of any complications during and after pregnancy.
How to Prevent High Blood Pressure – Can you Avoid Hypertension?
If you have no acquired hypertension, you should be very grateful and focus on preventing it. It is said that prevention is better than cure. Preventing high blood pressure successfully should be regarded as a great achievement. Fortunately, most risk factors for hypertension can be controlled. However, there are a few risk factors which cannot controlled. These factors include:
- Family history
Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to deal with these factors. Nevertheless, you need to direct your attention to what you can control. The risk factors which can be controlled are by far the most. They include lack of exercise, overweight, smoking, diet, drinking, stress and certain diseases and conditions. You need to be informed on how to avoid high blood pressure. Take time to learn what behaviors will help you prevent it. This will certainly save you fortunes. Besides, you will evade the cumbersome situation you would plunge yourself into in case you acquired hypertension. What is more, it is not costly to avoid HBP. Ordinarily, you prevent high blood pressure naturally except a few cases. The ways to prevent it include:
- Eat a healthy diet – Choosing healthy meals will help you avoid HBP and other conditions and diseases. Include potassium rich foods and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Reduce salt consumption – Avoid taking too much salt in your diet
- Reduce coffee consumption – Coffee contains a substance known as caffeine which is instrumental in elevating blood pressure. Reducing its intake will lower the chances of you developing HBP.
- Maintain healthy weight – Avoid obesity through regular exercise and healthy diet. Take your time to learn how to prevent and manage obesity.
- Exercise regularly – Ruler physical activity not only prevents development of HBP, but also other conditions like obesity. In addition, keeps you physically fit. Exercise for at least 30 minutes for a minimum of 5 days a week.
- Stop smoking – Quit smoking as it has virtually no benefit to your body. It is instead a burden to yourself. Learn how you can quit smoking and you will be safe. Equally, avoid inhaling tobacco smoke from smokers (avoid secondary smoking).
- Stop or drink moderately – Quit drinking or limit the amount of alcohol that you consume. Learn how to quit drinking easily. Take a single drink occasionally if you have to.
- Manage stress – Stress is inevitable since it is part of life. However it can be managed. You just need to lean how to manage stress.
- Monitor your blood pressure – Have your blood pressure check regularly so that you can notice any anomaly at the earliest opportunity and take the necessary measures to deal with it.
- Treat underlying diseases and conditions – Treat and prevent diabetes, kidney disease and high cholesterol, which tend to cause or increase hypertension.
References and Resources