Blood Pressure Explained- What is meant by blood pressure?
Your heart pumps blood into blood vessels or arteries that supply this oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. It is determined by the amount of blood pumped by your heart and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. So, obviously- the greater the amount of blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the greater the pressure on the artery walls, and hence the higher the blood pressure.
What is normal blood pressure?
When we talk of normal blood pressure, we are actually referring to a range rather than a number. The upper limit of this range is called systolic pressure and the lower limit is called the diastolic pressure. The normal blood pressure range is between 120 and 80 i.e. less than 120 and over 80.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension is a situation where your blood pressure levels go beyond this normally accepted range. Roughly, between 120-139 and over 80-89 is marked out as the prehypertension stage, above which a systolic pressure between 140-159 and diastolic pressure over 90-99 means Stage 1 high blood pressure. If your blood pressure ranges 160 and above on the upper limit and over 100 on the lower limit, you have Stage 2 high blood pressure. High blood pressure is often age-related- for instance, for people aged over 60, anything outside the range 150-90 would be considered as high.
High blood pressure can be dangerous because it increases the demands on your heart- making it work harder to pump blood throughout the body and contributes to hardening of the arteries. In the long run, it may lead to severe health problems like heart attack, stroke, heart failure, atherosclerosis, and diabetes etc.
High Blood Pressure Symptoms
Often, high blood pressure develops gradually over and years and can often reach dangerously high levels, without showing any serious symptoms. Some people may experience dull headaches, dizziness or bleeding nose- but these mostly happen at a very severe stage. Thankfully, high blood pressure can be detected quite easily because you’ll likely have your blood pressure tested as part of your routine doctor’s visits. In fact, it is recommended that starting age 18, you ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading every 2 years, at least. Blood pressure should be checked in both arms to determine if there’s a difference.
High Blood Pressure Causes
The exact cause remains unknown, but several factors can lead to the development of high blood pressure. These include:
• Physical inactivity
• Excessive salt in the diet
• Excessive alcohol consumption
• High blood pressure from stress and anxiety
• Age and gender
• Genetic high blood pressure
• Family history
• Chronic kidney disease
• Adrenal and thyroid disorders
• Sleep apnea
• Race (African-Americans are more at risk)
Pregnant women and women who take birth control pills may also be at a greater risk of developing high blood pressure.
Types of high blood pressure
Essential or Primary hypertension
When the exact underlying cause of high blood pressure cannot be determined, it is called essential hypertension. In fact, 95 percent of reported high blood pressure cases in the U.S. belong to this type. This type of blood pressure tends to run in families and is affects men more than women. Age and race also play risk factors in essential hypertension- for example, in the U.S., blacks have double the chance of developing high blood pressure than whites- after age 65, black women show the highest incidence of high blood pressure. One of the most compelling risk factors is salt sensitivity- people who are salt sensitive react to high levels of salt in their diet- anything that is higher than the bare minimum necessary amount for the body can trigger high blood pressure for them. Other risk factors include anxiety, stress, diabetes, inadequate intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium and excessive alcohol consumption. Up to one drink a day for women and men over 65, and two drinks a day for men aged 65 and below can be considered harmless.
Hypertension for which an underlying cause can be specified is called secondary hypertension. Contrary to essential hypertension, this type of high blood pressure appears suddenly and leads to a higher pressure than essential hypertension. Kidney disease, adrenal gland abnormalities, pregnancy, birth control pills and certain medication may cause such hypertension.