What is blood pressure, and how important is it in a health context? It is the force of your blood moving through your blood vessels. Your blood pressure can be normal – Normotension; too low – Hypotension; or too high – Hypertension.
This article will focus on hypertension, its causes, and what you can do to ensure your blood pressure remains in a healthy range throughout the course of your life.
What are the normal blood pressure ranges?
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). It is represented as two numbers, with the first figure representing your systolic blood pressure, and the second figure representing your diastolic blood pressure.
Systolic blood pressure indicates the pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when the heart beats while diastolic blood pressure indicates the pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when your heart is resting between beats.
More attention is typically given to the systolic blood pressure when assessing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease in people over 50. For most people, as they age, the systolic blood pressure will rise steadily due to the increasing stiffening of large arteries.
According to the American Heart Association, these are the five categories of blood pressure ranges:
- Normal: Readings of 90-120mmHg systolic, and 60-80mmHg diastolic.
- Elevated: Consistent blood pressure readings of 120-129mmHg systolic and less than 80mmHg diastolic. These values signify a risk of developing hypertension if corrective lifestyle and dietary changes are not made to control pressures.
- Hypertension Stage 1: Consistent blood pressure readings of 130-139mmHg systolic and/or 80-89mmHg diastolic. At this stage, you are considered a hypertension patient. Your doctor will probably prescribe lifestyle and dietary changes without medication, unless their assessment of risk factors for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease deems medication necessary.
- Hypertension Stage 2: Consistent blood pressure readings of 140mmHg or higher systolic, and/or 90mmHg or higher diastolic. At this stage, in addition to lifestyle modifications, your doctor will prescribe antihypertensive medications to help control your blood pressure.
- Hypertensive Crisis: Blood pressure readings of greater than 180mmHg systolic and/or 120mmHg diastolic. This is considered a medical emergency and requires prompt medical attention. Such high readings may be accompanied by danger signs like severe headache, limb weakness, tingling sensation, or shortness of breath, in which case you should go to a hospital immediately.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Some risk factors for developing hypertension include:
- Heavy smoking
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Caffeine consumption
- High sodium (salt) diets
- Old age
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease
- In some cases, oral contraceptive use
Danger signs in high blood pressure
Hypertension is particularly dangerous as most patients do not exhibit particular signs and symptoms. However, there are a few danger signs you can look out for to alert you that you or a loved one are having high blood pressures which might signify a hypertensive crisis.
- Severe headache
- Loss of consciousness
- Limb weakness or numbness
- Chest pain
- Difficulty in breathing
When you or someone near you are experiencing these symptoms, visit the nearest health center immediately.
Hypertension is a chronic disease with effects that affect all the systems of the body over a long time, with a poor prognosis if not managed. Some complications of uncontrolled high blood pressure include:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Vision loss
- Erectile dysfunction
White coat hypertension and masked hypertension
White coat hypertension and masked hypertension are conditions where a person’s blood pressure readings are inaccurate because of certain environments.
In white coat hypertension, blood pressures are high when measured at the doctor’s office or clinic but normal in other settings like at home or at work.
In masked hypertension, blood pressure readings are normal at the clinic but high in different settings like home or at work.
These conditions make learning how to monitor your blood pressure at home an important skillset for everyone, as these readings can help your doctor make an accurate and informed diagnosis and treatment plan for you.
How to prevent hypertension
Most cases of hypertension are due to preventable causes. Some of the steps you can take to prevent high blood pressure include:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet with less fatty foods and more fruits and vegetables
- Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake
- Ceasing smoking
- Reducing dietary sodium intake
Hypertension can be a lifelong disease. If you are diagnosed, it is important to follow your doctor’s advice and treatment plans to ensure you live a long and healthy life with few complications.
Innocent Immaculate Acan is a medical doctor and writer currently working at Adjumani Hospital. She won the Writivism Short Story Prize in 2016 and has published an illustrated children’s book titled The Pearl Trotters in Black, Yellow, Red. She was part of the 2018 class of the Young and Emerging Leaders Project.