BLOOD PRESSURE BASICS
Whenever you go to the doctor’s office, someone will typically take your temperature, and your blood pressure. Do you know why your blood pressure is so important? What are the warning signs of high blood pressure? How to lower it? We’ve got the answers you need.
WHY DOES YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE MATTER?
First of all, a blood pressure measurement is a ratio of the blood going into and out of your heart.
When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of the body. This force
creates pressure on the arteries. This is called systolic blood pressure and it is the upper number (120 for example).
The diastolic blood pressure number or the bottom number indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. This is the lower number (80 for example). A good blood pressure measurement is 120/80.
When a blood pressure number is high (145/80), it indicates that the heart is working harder than it should to circulate the blood. In general, the lower the blood pressure the better, although if it is too low, it could
indicate other problems. Very low blood pressure (80/50) could be a symptom of serious heart, endocrine
or neurological disorders. This could lead to shock which can be life-threatening.
Blood pressure is measured with a simple, painless test using a blood pressure cuff.
Doctors have these blood pressure cuffs, and some people buy one to have in the home.
Some pharmacies have blood pressure measuring devices in their waiting areas.
RISKS OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
A blood pressure reading that is too low is not as common as high blood pressure readings. The risks of high blood pressure accumulate over time. Because the heart is beating more forcefully, the arteries stretch to allow blood to easily flow. Over time the tissue that makes up the walls of arteries gets stretched beyond its healthy limit and damaged.
The risks of high blood pressure include:
- Weakened blood vessels which can rupture (causing a stroke or aneurism)
- Scar tissue in the blood vessels which can catch debris in the blood (cholesterol for example)
- Increased risk of blood clots due to blood that gets trapped in the arteries
- Trapped blood can form clots that can narrow (and sometimes block) the arteries
- Increased plaque build-up which can block some arteries completely
- Tissue and organ damage from narrowed and blocked arteries
The problem with many of the issues is that you can’t tell that they’re happening. You may not feel any differently. That is why high blood pressure is often called the silent killer. High blood pressure can permanently damage your heart, brain, eyes and kidneys before you feel anything. High blood pressure can often lead to heart attack and heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health consequences.
HOW TO LOWER YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE
If you have moderately high blood pressure (120-139 systolic) please take these precautions:
- Eat a better diet, and reduce your salt intake
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Limit your alcohol intake
Those who have high blood pressure (140 or higher) many physicians will prescribe blood pressure lowering medication in addition to the tips listed above.
When blood pressure is dangerously high (180 or higher systolic or 110 or higher diastolic), this could indicate a hypertensive urgency. They symptoms include:
- Severe headache
- Shortness of breath
- Severe anxiety
If dangerously high blood pressure is left untreated, it could cause a hypertensive emergency and organ damage could occur. Symptoms of organ damage include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Back pain
- Change in vision
- Difficulty speaking
Should those conditions present themselves, call 9-1-1.
Please take your blood pressure level seriously.