Blood pressure is the measure of the force that circulating blood exerts against the walls of blood vessels (arteries, veins, and capillaries). The force of circulating blood comes from the heart when it pumps blood through the blood vessels to other parts of the body. Blood pressure comes in two forms; systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the force that blood exerts against blood vessels when the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart is at rest when it is being filled with blood and oxygen before the next pumping.
Blood pressure is measured in mmHg, and it’s presented with two numbers, with the bigger number being the systolic blood pressure, while the smaller number is the diastolic blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, the blood pressure reading of an adult human is less than 120/80 mmHg.
High blood pressure
What is high blood pressure?
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure
Mayo Clinic defines high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, as a condition where there is a long-term increase in the pressure of blood against its vessels, high enough to cause health problems such as heart diseases1. High blood pressure ranges from 130 systolic blood pressure and 80 diastolic blood pressure (130/80 mmHg) to greater than 180 systolic blood pressure and 120 diastolic blood pressure (180/120 mmHg).
There are two types of high blood pressure: primary (hypertension stage 1) and secondary (hypertension stage 2) high blood pressure. Primary hypertension happens when blood pressure remains constant between 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic 2. This type of hypertension develops slowly over a long period of time, and there is no identifiable cause1. Secondary hypertension happens when blood pressure rises to 140/90 mm Hg or greater. This type of high blood pressure develops more suddenly, and it is caused by underlying conditions. Some conditions that can cause secondary high blood pressure include obstructive sleep apnea, kidney disease, adrenal gland tumours, thyroid problems, and certain birth defects (congenital) in blood vessels. Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs, and illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines can also cause secondary hypertension.
It should be noted on a general note that certain conditions put one at risk of developing high blood pressure. Some of these risk factors include 3 :
- Unhealthy diet: Eating foods that are low in potassium and high in sodium (as found in cooking salt) increases the risk of high blood pressure.
- Reduced physical activity: Being physically active keeps your heart and blood vessels active and reduces your weight. This eventually helps in keeping your blood pressure in the normal range.
- Overweight/obesity: Being overweight makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body, which eventually causes stress on the heart and blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure. Moreover, excess body fat (obesity) is linked to an increase in bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol levels, which leads to diabetes and heart diseases.
- Excess alcohol: It is recommended that per day men take two drinks of alcohol and women should take one drink. Drinking too much alcohol (much above the recommended volume) increases the risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Using tobacco: Some ingredients of tobacco such as nicotine increase blood pressure and breathing in carbon dioxide produced during smoking reduces oxygen levels in the blood. These eventually raise levels of blood pressure.
- Diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure in the sense that sugar builds up in the blood, requiring higher pressure for the blood to flow. In fact, it is known that 60% of people suffering from diabetes also have high blood pressure.
- Family history: Sometimes high blood pressure is hereditary, so parents with a history of high blood pressure pass the condition genetically to their offspring.
- Age: People tend to develop high blood pressure as they age.
- Race: High blood pressure is more common among black people than white people and other races.
Generally, people who have high blood pressure do not show symptoms until it becomes life-threatening. For the few people who show symptoms, these symptoms may include blurred vision, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and headache 4. It is therefore required that one constantly checks their blood pressure even if they are feeling well.
Stages of blood pressure
According to the American Heart Association, there are five stages of blood pressure. These stages of blood pressure are as follows2:
- Normal: this is the stage when blood pressure is normal, and it is required that one has heart-healthy habits, such as taking regular exercise and eating healthy to keep the blood pressure at this normal level (120/80 mm Hg or less).
- Elevated: At this stage, the blood pressure is a little above normal, ranging between 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic pressure. At this stage, steps need to be taken - if not, the person may develop high blood pressure.
- Hypertension stage 1: At this stage, the blood pressure rises to a range of 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage, the physician may recommend a lifestyle change and probably prescribe medication to lower blood pressure based on the risk of developing an atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as a heart attack or stroke.
- Hypertension stage 2: this is the stage where blood pressure is 140/90mmHg or above. At this stage, the doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes along with blood pressure medication.
- Hypertensive crisis: This is the stage of blood pressure that needs medical attention. Usually, at this stage, the blood pressure is above 180/120mmHg.
What to do in a high blood pressure emergency?
- Call 999
- Lie flat and remain as calm as possible.
High blood pressure emergencies usually occur at the hypertensive crisis stage of high blood pressure. At this stage, you might be experiencing signs and symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, change in vision, and struggle with vision. It is strictly advised to call the emergency number and reach the hospitalr 2.
Lowering your blood pressure
Losing weight is one of the most effective lifestyle changes that will enable one to lower their blood pressure. Generally, losing 1kg of weight can lead to a corresponding 1mmHg of blood pressure. It is also required to keep an eye on the waistline, as a bigger waistline is more at risk of high blood pressure. For men, a waistline greater than 40 inches is at risk of high blood pressure, while for women a waistline of 35 inches is a greater risk of high blood pressure 5.
Exercising regularly for about 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes atleast 3 days of the week can help reduce the blood pressure by 5-8 mmHg if you have high blood pressure. Some of these exercises that one may take include cycling, jogging, swimming, or dancing. You can also include strength activities in the exercises.
Lower sodium consumption
If you have high blood pressure, reducing the amount of sodium just by a small amount can greatly reduce your blood pressure by 5-8mmHg. Generally, the daily sodium intake should be limited to 2300 mg or less. To decrease sodium intake in your diet, consume less processed food and also reduce salt intake when cooking at home.
If you have high blood pressure, eating a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products can drop your blood pressure by up to 11 mm Hg; also known as The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH).
Increase potassium consumption
The effects of sodium on blood pressure can be mitigated by potassium. Foods like fruits and vegetables are a better source of potassium than supplements. The ideal potassium level varies between individuals and should be discussed with your doctor.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol can be beneficial or harmful to your health. You may be able to lower your blood pressure by roughly 4 mmHg by just consuming alcohol in moderation—generally, one drink per day for women and two for men. 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of an 80-proof liquor constitute one drink. However, excessive alcohol consumption negates this protective effect. Alcohol consumption over a moderate level can cause a multi-point increase in blood pressure. Additionally, it may lessen the impact of blood pressure medications.
Your blood pressure goes up after each cigarette you smoke for several minutes. Your blood pressure can return to normal by quitting smoking. Your overall health will improve, and your risk of heart disease will decrease if you stop smoking. It's possible that smokers who stop smoking live longer than those who never do.
Reduce stress levels
High blood pressure may be exacerbated by ongoing stress. Periodic stress can also cause high blood pressure if you respond to it by consuming unhealthy foods, alcohol, or tobacco. Spend some time considering the things that stress you out, such as work, family, money, or illness. If you are unable to eliminate your stressors, practise healthier coping mechanisms such as focusing on issues you can control and making plans to solve them, avoiding stress triggers, making time to relax, and practising gratitude.
Monitor blood pressure regularly
Monitor your blood pressure: Home monitoring can help you monitor your blood pressure, ensure that lifestyle modifications are having the desired effect, and notify you and your doctor of any potential health issues. Without a prescription, blood pressure monitors are easily accessible. Before you begin, discuss home monitoring with your doctor.
Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood against blood vessels. This force comes from the pumping of blood by the heart through blood vessels to the rest of the body. Blood pressure is measured in mmHg and contains two values, one being systolic and the other being diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart squeezes blood to the rest of the body, while diastolic pressure occurs when the heart is at rest before the next pump. The normal blood pressure of an adult human being is 120/80 mmHg or less, whereas 120 is the systolic and 80 is the diastolic blood pressure. Out of the normal range, there are other stages of blood pressure which are elevated, hypertension stage 1, hypertension stage 2, and hypertensive crisis. When faced with high blood pressure, one should do regular exercise, eat healthily, reduce sodium, and increase potassium intake, stop smoking and drinking alcohol to lower the blood pressure to normal. It is also advisable to regularly monitor blood pressure so as to know when to intervene.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. High blood pressure (hypertension). [Online].; 2021 [cited 2022 June 23. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-causes/syc-20373410.
- American Heart Association. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. [Online]. [cited 2022 June 23. Available from: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings.
- Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention. Know Your Risk for High Blood Pressure. [Online].; 2020 [cited 2022 June 23. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/risk_factors.htm.
- British Heart Foundation. High blood pressure - symptoms and treatment. [Online]. [cited 2022 June 23. Available from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/high-blood-pressure/symptoms-and-treatment.
- Mayo Clinic. 10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication. [Online].; 2021 [cited 2022 June 23. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974.