High blood pressure by itself is usually asymptomatic. Years can sometimes go by with untreated high blood pressure without suffering any ill effects, but when the problems do arise, they can be fatal. Having high blood pressure causes stroke and heart attack and kidney failure. Once these complications occur, it is too late to go back and undo the damage.
2. What causes high blood pressure?
The biggest risk factor for high blood pressure is something that is not under our control: Age. You can think of it as a stiffening of the blood vessels as we get older. Genetics also play a role. Some risk factors, however, are under our control, the two most important of which are eating a high salt diet, and physical inactivity.
3. Why are there two different numbers when we measure a blood pressure?
A blood pressure reading always has an upper and lower number, such as 130/75. The first number is called the systolic pressure, the second number is called the diastolic pressure. With each beat of the heart, as the blood flows out through our arteries, the pressure will go up in the artery, and then ½ a second later as the blood flows out into the body, the pressure in that artery drops. The systolic number of the blood pressure is the highest the pressure in the artery gets, and the diastolic number is the lowest the blood pressure gets with each beat of the heart. Or in other words, we could say, with each beat of the heart, the pressure is varying between 130 and 75.
4. If I measure my blood pressure, when is the best time to measure it?
Most times are OK, and if there starts to be any question about whether your pressure is too high, it would be good to measure it on your own at home or with an automated cuff at a pharmacy. The numbers will be five to 10 points lower if you are relaxed and sitting rested for a few minutes before checking it. If you are nervous or upset when you check it, it will be quite a bit higher (which is a normal response). It will also be higher if checked right after you finish exercising (which is also normal).
In order to get a true idea of the pressure, it is best to measure it several times on different days to see the average and usual range of the pressures.
5. What is the normal range for a blood pressure?
For most people the safe range is to keep the systolic number less than 140, and the diastolic number less than 90. For some groups, (such as those with diabetes), the targets are lower at 130 and 80.
6. How should high blood pressure be treated?
The first treatment for high blood pressure should be lifestyle change. That is people who are eating a higher salt diet should change to a low salt diet, and those who are physically inactive should start a regular exercise program. These are not easy changes for most people to make, but will each result in a drop of systolic pressure of about 10 points. Even after these changes however, there are many times when the pressure is still too high, and those individuals should visit with their primary care physician regarding starting a medication to bring the pressure into the normal range.