Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the heart uses to pump blood around the body. It reaches its highest point when the heart is contracting and its lowest point when the heart is relaxing between beats. As a result, there are two values when measuring blood pressure. The first (or top) number represents systolic blood pressure and the second (or bottom) number represents diastolic blood pressure. Blood pressure fluctuates quite a bit throughout the day due to changing emotional states, stress, physical activity, etc. It also varies from one individual to another according to age, race, gender, diet, and lifestyle.
Individuals with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease than those with normal blood pressure. Generally speaking, hypertension is present when systolic pressure is greater than 140 mmHg or diastolic pressure is greater than 90 mmHg. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the damage.
Hypertension can develop at any age, but is more common in adults. Although it can occasionally cause headaches, hypertension usually goes unnoticed until a complication occurs. Hypertension increases the risk of heart failure, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, dementia and eye disease.
Early detection and taking the proper steps to manage high blood pressure are very important. While having certain risk factors can impact treatment, a target goal of 140/90 mmHg is usually recommended. Your doctor will assess your health and medical condition before determining what your ideal blood pressure measurement should be.
How do you know if you have high blood pressure?
If high blood pressure is detected, either during an appointment with your health provider or with an at-home blood pressure device or a device in your local pharmacy, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. He or she will take your blood pressure and will perform other tests before diagnosing you with high blood pressure and establishing a treatment that is appropriate for you.
Keeping track of your own blood pressure
Taking your own blood pressure is very easy and anyone can do it. There are many styles and models of blood pressure monitors on the market today, and they can be found in pharmacies and big-box stores. Speak to your pharmacist.
Here are a few suggestions when taking your own blood pressure:
- do not measure your blood pressure within 30 minutes of drinking coffee or smoking
- do not exercise or exert yourself within 30 minutes of measuring your blood pressure
- sit with your feet flat on the ground with your back supported
- remove restrictive or tight-fitting clothing from your arm
- place your arm on a hard surface at heart level
- take 5 minutes to relax and rest quietly before taking your blood pressure
- use a cuff that is suitable for the circumference of your arm (a cuff that is too large or too small will provide an inaccurate result)
- follow the instructions for your equipment
- do not speak while taking your blood pressure
- record your readings, including the date, time and arm in a log
Can hypertension be cured?
Unless it is the result of another disease, hypertension is not curable. It can however, be controlled. In mild cases, it can even be managed without medication.
The following measures can help lower high blood pressure and may also be useful for people with normal blood pressure who wish to prevent hypertension:
- eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables
- reduce your fat and sugar intake
- reduce your sodium intake to 2,000 mg per day (put away the salt shaker and avoid processed foods)
- increase your fibre intake (whole grains)
- engage in moderate-intensity exercise regularly
- do not smoke
- do not drink more than 2 ounces of alcohol a day (should not exceed 14 drinks per week for men and 9 drinks per week for women)
- maintain a healthy weight (BMI 20 to 25)
- learn how to handle stress
How is hypertension treated?
When the above measures are not enough to get your blood pressure under control, your physician may prescribe medication. Several agents are available and each has advantages and disadvantages. Remember, there is no cure for hypertension. It is often a lifelong condition that requires treatment. In addition to treatment, lifestyle changes must be made.
Drug therapies must be tailored to the patient's unique needs in order to normalize blood pressure with minimal side effects. Patients frequently require more than one drug. To ensure effective treatment, regular follow-ups with your physician are important. Your physician may also advise you to check your blood pressure at home on a regular basis.
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