What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood flow in the arteries. This pressure is due to the pumping of blood by the heart to other parts of the body. Optimum blood pressure is necessary to ensure adequate blood flow to the body's organs. Therefore, having a healthy blood pressure ensures that the organs can function correctly.
How is Blood Pressure Measured?
Blood pressure is measured using a sphygmomanometer. It may be digital or manual. However, some call it a blood pressure cuff, even though the instrument has other parts, not just the cuff.
For measuring with a manual sphygmomanometer:
The cuff is wrapped around the bare upper arm tautly. The cuff is then inflated until the circulation is halted. A small valve is used to gradually release the air from the cuff, and the operator listens with a stethoscope for blood going through the brachial artery. The first sound is the systolic blood pressure. The diastolic blood pressure is given by the level at which the sounds disappear.
For measuring with a digital sphygmomanometer:
The cuff is wrapped around the bare arm tautly. A button is pressed on the digital device to start the cuff's inflation. Ultimately, the blood pressure reading is shown on the digital device.
Following the manufacturer's instructions for both manual and digital sphygmomanometers is crucial.
What does Systolic and Diastolic Mean?
There are two main phases of a heartbeat. There is a contraction phase when the heart muscles contract to pump blood out and a relaxation phase when the heart muscles relax to allow the heart to fill with blood.
The blood pressure during the contraction phase is called systolic blood pressure. The blood pressure during the relaxation phase is the diastolic blood pressure.
How High is “High” Blood Pressure?
The various blood pressure ranges could be divided into low, normal, and high blood pressure. The American Heart Association categorises high blood pressure into stage 1 and stage 2. Stage 1 high blood pressure is when the systolic pressure ranges from 130-139mmHg, or diastolic pressure ranges from 80-89mmHg. For stage 2 high blood pressure, the systolic pressure is 140mmHg or higher, or the diastolic pressure is 90mmHg or higher. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.1
You should seek urgent medical attention when the systolic blood pressure exceeds 180mmHg, or diastolic blood pressure exceeds 120mmHg.1 These blood pressures fall within the hypertensive crisis range and could be life-threatening.
Types of Hypertension
Hypertension may be diagnosed as primary or secondary hypertension. Primary hypertension may result from ageing or unhealthy lifestyle choices like inadequate exercise.2 It would not be easy to pinpoint an exact known cause. Primary hypertension seems to be the more common of the two types. Alternatively, secondary hypertension is a by-product of a known medical condition or disease. Thus, it has a known cause.
Is Dizziness a Symptom of High Blood Pressure?
Frequently, people with high blood pressure may not have any symptoms. For this reason, some people refer to it as the silent killer. However, when blood pressure reaches exceptionally high levels, symptoms such as dizziness may occur. Dizziness could also result from low blood pressure (hypotension). It may occur due to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain.
Other Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure
Even though high blood pressure may not present with any symptoms, there may be some signs and symptoms in a hypertensive crisis. These may include a headache, a change in your vision, nose-bleeding, fatigue, chest pain, and pounding in your chest. The rarer signs of high blood pressure include vision disturbances, vertigo, nausea and loss of appetite.
However, these signs and symptoms are not exclusive to high blood pressure and could be due to other conditions. There is great benefit in having any such signs checked out by your doctor. Having your blood pressure checked would provide more definite information as to whether you are experiencing high blood pressure or not.
Causes and Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
As mentioned earlier, primary hypertension does not have a specific cause. However, certain things could increase your chance of getting it. These things are risk factors for primary hypertension. They include the following:
- Excessive salt intake: High salt intake can increase your blood pressure, resulting in an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.3
- Sedentary lifestyle: It is well known that doing little or no exercise increases a person's risk of developing several health conditions, including high blood pressure. Being more active helps keep your blood pressure within a healthy range.4
- Being overweight or obese: Obesity is associated with long-term conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. Therefore, achieving a healthy weight may help reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
- Other lifestyle factors: These include smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
- Having a relative with hypertension
- People over 65 years: As people age, their risk of developing high blood pressure increases.
- People of African or Caribbean descent: Black Africans or Caribbeans seem to be at increased risk of hypertension.
Complications of High Blood Pressure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to serious health issues. In a hypertensive crisis where the systolic blood pressure is above 180mmHg, or diastolic is above 120mmHg, multiple organ damage could result if urgent medical treatment is not sought.
Hypertension is also a risk factor for atherosclerosis, during which the arteries narrow. It is believed that high blood pressure could damage the arteries and stimulate atherosclerosis.
Hypertension could also lead to heart disease. Since the heart is pumping so hard, it may eventually be unable to maintain pumping under such a high pressure, resulting in heart damage.
Kidney damage could also occur due to uncontrolled high blood pressure. High blood pressure could damage the blood vessels of the kidneys and make them less effective in their work. The kidneys filter the blood and help eliminate some unwanted by-products from our bodies’ natural processes.
This is a severe condition and is life-threatening in many instances. An aneurysm weakens part of a blood vessel leading to a bulge. One potentially dangerous site of occurrence is the aorta, the major artery of the body. It is the artery which transports blood from the heart to the rest of the body. High blood pressure could cause a break in the weakened part of the artery. Meanwhile, the rapture of an aneurysm of the aorta is frequently fatal.
Your blood pressure will be measured by your health care professional. You may be asked questions regarding your medical history, and your doctor may conduct some physical examinations. All these results would guide your doctor in diagnosing high blood pressure.
However, having one raised reading may not mean high blood pressure. Certain circumstances could raise the blood pressure of someone who does not have hypertension. These situations include lack of sleep, feeling anxious, or being ill. Therefore, your doctor may take several measurements of your blood pressure before diagnosing.
Treatment, Management and Prevention of High Blood Pressure
Your doctor may likely speak to you about some lifestyle changes for someone with high blood pressure. These may include cutting down on your salt intake, exercising, quitting smoking, losing excess weight (depending on your BMI), eating balanced meals, and reducing alcohol and caffeine drinks. Such lifestyle changes may also help prevent high blood pressure for people who do not have hypertension.
Your doctor may prescribe some medications to lower your blood pressure depending on your blood pressure readings and the risk of developing complications for hypertensive people.
When to Call a Doctor or Dial 999
When your blood pressure gets around 180/120mmHg or higher, it is essential to seek urgent medical care. This action is relevant for people with some of the signs and symptoms mentioned earlier, in addition to high blood pressure.
The number of people with high blood pressure keeps increasing. Yet, lifestyle changes could help reduce the numbers if more people were keen enough to implement them. In addition to preventing and managing high blood pressure, these lifestyle modifications frequently form the basis of avoiding other health conditions. Implementing them is likely to improve the health of people in this generation.
- The American Heart Association. The facts about high blood pressure. [internet]. 2017. [cited on 2022 April 22]. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure
- Cleveland Clinic. High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). [internet]. 2021. [cited on 2022 April 24]. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4314-hypertension-high-blood-pressure
- NHS. Salt: the facts. [internet]. 2021. [cited on 2022 April 24]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-types/salt-nutrition/
- British Heart Foundation. Physical inactivity. [internet]. [cited on 2022 April 24]. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/physical-inactivity