In our days, we often talk about blood pressure. According to The National Health Center statistics, more than 30 million Americans suffer from high blood pressure problems. A great risk factor of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure is not a disease per se. On the other hand, it requires care to prevent any long-term problems. What is it? We will explain in this article the minimum to know about blood pressure.
- 1. What is Blood Pressure?
- 2. What is Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure?
- 3. Recording Blood Pressure Accurately
- 4. The Best Time to Record Blood Pressure
- 5. Understanding Records – Normal and Alarming Blood Pressure
- 6. What Causes High Blood Pressure?
- 7. Why is High Blood Pressure Alarming?
- 8. How Can You Identify High Blood Pressure?
- 9. What is Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension) and What Causes it?
- 10. How Can You Identify Low Blood Pressure?
- 11. How to Maintain Normal Blood Pressure?
1. What is Blood Pressure?
You must have wondered why the nurse or health worker always checks and notes down your blood pressure whenever you visit a doctor. The reason is that your body’s blood pressure is one of the four vital signs of your body. The vital signs are those features which tell about your overall wellness. Basically, blood pressure is the force or strength with which the blood moves against the walls of the vessels in which it is contained in your body. These vessels are called the blood vessels. Since the blood which moves in the blood vessels is pumped through the heart, so blood pressure is correlated with the rate and the force with which the heart beats. It therefore tells about the health of heart. Since heart is the major organ of the body, blood pressure is therefore considered as one of the vital signs of the body.
2. What is Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure?
You must have observed that when the nurse records your blood pressure, he or she notes down two readings in your record. Both of the two numbers have significance. One of them is your systolic blood pressure while the other one signifies your diastolic blood pressure value. These two values signify the pattern in which your heart beats. With every beat, the heart contracts and then relaxes.
When the heart contracts, blood is forced and pushed out through the vessels and is distributed to the entire body. The force or the pressure which is created while the blood is squeezed out during this contraction phase, determines your systolic blood pressure. In medicine, the word ‘systole’ refers to the contraction of heart.
After the contraction phase, there is a relaxation phase. In this second phase, the heart relaxes and the blood which had been pumped out to the entire body, then returns back to the relaxed heart. The force with which the blood runs in the blood vessels during this relaxation phase of the heart is called diastolic blood pressure. In medicine, the word ‘diastole’ refers to the relaxation of heart.
Normally, the systolic blood pressure value is always larger than the diastolic value. This is due to the fact that the blood flows in the vessels with more pressure when the heart contracts. When the heart relaxes during the diastolic phase, the blood pressure is relatively less in the vessels.
3. Recording Blood Pressure Accurately
The device to measure the blood pressure is called sphygmomanometer or blood pressure monitor. It consists of a cuff which is to be wrapped around your arm, a monitor and a pump to inflate the cuff. The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff style, arm monitor. According to the American Heart Association, wrist and finger monitors are not recommended because they give less consistent readings. Furthermore, a validated monitor should be chosen. The cuff size should be checked. This is done by measuring the circumference of the upper arm where the cuff is to be placed.
The cuff is wrapped around the upper arm of the person whose blood pressure is to be recorded. The tubing of the cuff should be positioned on the palmer surface of the upper arm. The upper arm is then rested on a surface which is as high as the level of heart. The stethoscope is placed over the brachial artery. The brachial artery lies within the depression between the upper and lower arm on the palmer surface. The pump is them pressed to inflate the cuff slowly while listening to the pulse. When the pulse disappears, inflating should be halted. The cuff is then deflated slowly. Reading on the monitor should also be observed simultaneously. When the pulse can be heard again through the ear piece of the stethoscope, the reading on the monitor should be noted down. This first reading indicates the systolic blood pressure. Deflating the cuff is continued further till the pulse disappears again. When this happens, reading on the monitor should be recorded again. This second reading indicates the diastolic blood pressure. The procedure is repeated for two more times after intervals. This helps in recording of three readings of blood pressure and reduces the chances of error.
4. The Best Time to Record Blood Pressure
For accurate readings of blood pressure, it is advised to record it twice daily. The first record should be made in morning and the second in evening. Every time you record your blood pressure, it is important to record the blood pressure at least three times. This reduces the errors. An important point which you should remember is not to record blood pressure after exercise or meals. Another point to be considered before you record your blood pressure is that your urinary bladder should be empty and you must not have consumed tobacco and caffeine at least 30 minutes prior to recording your blood pressure.
5. Understanding Records – Normal and Alarming Blood Pressure
Normally, when your blood pressure is noted down, the systolic blood pressure value is noted first followed by the diastolic blood pressure value. This is because the contraction phase of the heart comes before the relaxation phase. The normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg. 120 mmHg shows the systolic value while 80 mmHg show the diastolic value (1 mmHg is the pressure that one millimeter (mm) of mercury (Hg) exerts. As a conversion: 1 mmHg = 0.00133 bar). However, these values can slightly vary according to age, gender and physical activity. On the other hand, large variances in the reading may indicate illness.
According to the American Heart Association, there are five ranges of blood pressure from normal till the fatal high blood pressure. You can go through these ranges mentioned below and find out your category.
|Blood Pressure||Systolic (mmHg)||Diastolic (mmHg)|
|Low blood pressure (Hypotension)||less than 100||less than 60|
|Normal||100 – 120||60 – 80|
|Pre hypertension||120 – 139||80 – 89|
|High blood pressure/ hypertension stage 1||140 – 159||90 – 99|
|High blood pressure/ hypertension stage 2||160-179||100 – 109|
|High blood pressure/ hypertensive crisis||more than 180||more than 110|
You should not worry if your blood pressure reading is abnormally high or low once in a blue moon. Such seldom abnormal readings don’t diagnose you as being hypertensive. However frequent and consecutive abnormal readings may be alarming and require your attention. If your blood pressure lies within the normal range, you just need to continue with your healthy life style. However, if you have blood pressure values which are not normal, you should either modify your life style or visit your doctor for medications. Usually medications are not prescribed till the pre hypertensive phase.
6. What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Frequent abnormally high readings of blood pressure may indicate that you have hypertension. Hypertension is the medical term which means abnormally high blood pressure. Two main causes of hypertension are genetics and environment. Environmental factors which may play a role in increasing the blood pressure include increased body weight, reduced or absence of physical activity, alcohol or tobacco consumption, stress, too much salt in diet or any disease. The diseases responsible for causing hypertension may be related to kidney or thyroid gland. Your kidney releases certain proteins which are responsible for lowering your blood pressure and bringing it back to normal. Any disease of kidney which deprives it of releasing this protein may therefore affect your blood pressure as well. On the other hand thyroid disorders such as hyperthyroidism may cause an increase in blood pressure. Blood pressure may also rise during the late months of pregnancy. Such hypertension may or may not be temporary.
7. Why is High Blood Pressure Alarming?
High blood pressure may directly or indirectly affect many of your body’s systems. It is therefore fatal and must be treated as early as possible. Here is how it affects your body:
- Chronic increase in blood pressure causes thickening of the blood vessels. This causes the heart to beat with greater force in order to pump blood efficiently to the entire body. This increased work load on heart is the reason behind heart attack and heart failure. Also, the thickening of the vessels prevents ample blood to reach the brain. This deficiency of blood reaching the brain causes stroke.
- Increased blood pressure means increased force with which the blood flows in the vessels. This damages the vessels and the blood vessels bulge out and burst. This is a life threatening situation.
- Changes in blood pressure affect all the blood vessels of the body. If these vessels are those of some major organ such as kidney, brain or eyes, these organs may lose their efficiency. For example you may experience loss of vision or difficulty to memorize things if you suffer from high blood pressure.
- Hypertension may affect your reproductive system and cause sexual dysfunction.
- Small vessels of your body may also be affected by high blood pressure and this may cause pooling of blood and clot formation in these vessels. These clots are then responsible for pain in specific areas.
8. How Can You Identify High Blood Pressure?
Noting your blood pressure through a device called the sphygmomanometer is an efficient way to keep a record of your blood pressure. This is especially helpful in cases of silent hypertension which is present without any signs and symptoms. Apart from checking blood pressure through the sphygmomanometer, you may also observe certain signs or symptoms in yourself if you have high blood pressure. Few of the general signs are headaches, shortness of breath and nose bleeds. Specific signs may be related to the organ affected by the high blood pressure. These may include decreased vision or loss of vision, chest pain, painful peripheral areas of your body, neurological symptoms for example speech and visual disturbance, disorientation etc.
9. What is Low Blood Pressure (Hypotension) and What Causes it?
It is not just the increased values of blood pressure which should worry you. Frequent and consecutive abnormally low readings of blood pressure may indicate that you are suffering from low blood pressure or hypotension. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings less than 90 and 60 respectively are considered to be low blood pressure.
Just like high blood pressure, low blood pressure may also be due to genetics or environmental conditions. Environmental causes of low values of blood pressure include stress, temperature, diet, dehydration, medications and physical activity. Some diseases may also reduce the body’s blood pressure indirectly. One such disease is hypothyroidism. Few other causes include prolonged bed rest, pregnancy, decrease in blood volume due to dehydration or chronic blood loss, low blood sugar levels, severe infection, allergic reactions and nutritional deficiency. Heart disease may also be a cause of low blood pressure. Such heart problems may include low heart rate and problems with heart valves.
10. How Can You Identify Low Blood Pressure?
Persistent low blood pressure may require you to consult your doctor. You can identify if your blood pressure is abnormally low. There are few signs and symptoms which help you in this identification of low blood pressure. Few of the general signs and symptoms include dizziness, nausea, fainting, dehydration, unusual thirst, lack of concentration, blurred vision, cold and clammy skin, pale skin, shallow breathing, shallow pulse, fatigue and depression. If the blood pressure is low, it means that the blood is not flowing with adequate force in the vessels and therefore not reaching the desired areas of the body in adequate amount. This can affect the organs which get deprived of sufficient amount of blood.
11. How to Maintain Normal Blood Pressure?
Apart from genetics, the environmental factors responsible for causing high or low blood pressure can be modified to maintain the normal blood pressure. Low blood pressure can be dealt through adequate fluid intake, overcoming nutritional deficiencies and consulting a doctor to treat blood loss, infection and any underlying disease.
High blood pressure, on the other hand, is more worrisome. It can be lowered by modifying the life style. Weight loss is one of the most useful life style changes for controlling high blood pressure. According to research, losing just 10 pounds can help decrease your blood pressure. Apart from concentrating on the overall weight, waist line should also be kept under check. Gaining more weight around waist increases the risk of developing hypertension.
Physical activity is the next factor which plays an important role in controlling high blood pressure. Exercising at least 30 minutes a day can work wonders.
Healthy diet is also imperative (see DASH diet). Including meals rich in potassium, in your diet can maintain normal blood pressure. Contents rich in sodium should be reduced.
Last but not the least, alcohol should be completely excluded from the diet and planning should be done for smoking cessation as smoking is not only detrimental for heart and lungs health but also affects other body systems and is the major cause of lung and mouth cancers.
Hypertension is nicknamed the “silent killer” because it is a major risk factor for potentially life-threatening diseases such as heart attacks or strokes.
It is essential to measure blood pressure regularly and in the case of hypertension or hypotension, the change of lifestyle (physical exercise, maintenance of a healthy weight, cessation of smoking, etc.) is paramount. However, in the case of regular hypertension or hypotension it is imperative to consult your doctor who will be entitled to prescribe medication if necessary.