Understanding Blood Pressure

Hypertension. Patient measuring blood pressure; blog: understanding blood pressure

Each time you go to the doctor, no matter the reason, you probably have your blood pressure measured. It’s checked so often because maintaining normal blood pressure is important to your overall health and wellness. Understanding blood pressure can be extremely helpful when evaluating your health.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure created within your arteries as your heart beats and pumps blood throughout the body. It’s determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and how much resistance there is in blood flow.

Blood pressure should be measured regularly because high blood pressure is dangerous and can lead to complications that affect multiple body systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 1 in 3 adults in the US have high blood pressure.

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is composed of two numbers. The first number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heartbeats. This is called systolic pressure. The second number is the measurement of how much pressure is in your arteries between heartbeats. This is called diastolic pressure. Both numbers are used to give a total measurement of blood pressure.

Blood pressure measurements fall into four categories:

Normal blood pressure: 120/80 mm Hg or below

Elevated blood pressure: Systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 129 mm Hg with a diastolic pressure below 80 mm Hg

Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic pressure between 130-139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure between 80-89 mm Hg

Stage 2 hypertension: Systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or above or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher

Elevated Blood Pressure and Hypertension

The terms “hypertension” and “high blood pressure” are often used interchangeably. However, it should be noted that hypertension is not the same as elevated blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure is higher than normal but has not reached the stage of hypertension. Elevated blood pressure usually worsens over time and will develop into hypertension if steps are not taken to control it.

Types of Hypertension

There are two types of hypertension, not to be confused with the two stages of hypertension. The stages measure the severity while the type indicates the cause of high blood pressure. 

Hypertension can be either primary or secondary.

1. Primary Hypertension: Also referred to as essential hypertension, this is the type of high blood pressure that affects most adults. Primary hypertension has no identifiable cause and develops gradually over several years. 

2. Secondary Hypertension: Secondary hypertension is blood pressure that has an underlying cause. Secondary hypertension may appear more suddenly than primary hypertension. Blood pressure may also be higher in secondary hypertension. Some causes of secondary hypertension include:

    • Kidney disease
    • Thyroid disorders
    • Adrenal gland tumors
    • Congenital defects in blood vessels
    • Obstructive sleep apnea
    • Certain over-the-counter and prescription medications
      • Cold medicine
      • Birth control
      • Decongestants
      • Pain relievers 
    • Illegal drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and other stimulants

Does High Blood Pressure Have Symptoms?

High blood pressure is often asymptomatic, meaning that people have no noticeable symptoms. When there are symptoms present, it is a sign that it has reached a severe stage that may be life-threatening. Symptoms of severe hypertension include:

  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds

Managing Blood Pressure

One of the most important things when it comes to understanding blood pressure is knowing how to manage it. People with primary hypertension will need to make lifestyle adjustments to prevent complications. Lifestyle changes include:

  • Following a heart-healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight

Your doctor may also give you medication to control high blood pressure. The list of medications prescribed for high blood pressure is long, but common types of hypertension medication include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Alpha-blockers
  • Beta-blockers
  • Alpha-beta blockers
  • Thiazide diuretics/water pills
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Vasodilators
  • Central-acting agents

If you have secondary hypertension, high blood pressure is managed by treating the underlying condition as well as controlling symptoms to prevent further complications.

Make an Appointment

Dr. Farhan Majeed of PULSE: The Heart, Valve, and Vascular Institute specializes in diagnosing and treating cardiac, vascular, and structural heart disease. If you have questions about your cardiovascular health, including concerns about blood pressure, call (941) 629-2111 to make an appointment with Dr. Majeed.


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