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Hypertension (high blood pressure) is when blood pumps more forcefully than it should. The arteries have to stretch to allow blood to easily flow. A person with hypertension may not feel that any symptoms. However, it can cause permanent damage, often leading to heart attack and heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and other health consequences. Typically, a diagnosis of hypertension is made after a patient’s blood pressure is high at more than one visit.
Blood pressure (BP) is typically recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio. High blood pressure goes above 140/90.
Systolic: The top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).
Diastolic: The bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).
Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms. A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath, or nosebleeds. These signs and symptoms usually don't occur until blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
It is important to have your pressure checked regularly when you have your annual check up.
For most adults, there's no clear cause of high blood pressure. This is called primary hypertension. It tends to develop with no symptoms over many years.
You may develop primary hypertension if:
Some people have high blood pressure that is caused by an underlying condition. This is called secondary hypertension. This type of high blood pressure tends to appear suddenly and cause higher pressure than primary hypertension. Some conditions and medications that can lead to secondary hypertension include:
Fortunately, it's easy to measure blood pressure. A health provider will place an inflatable arm cuff around your arm. The cuff will automatically squeeze your arm and a pressure-measuring gauge will measure your blood pressure.
You should aim for a blood pressure of less than 130/80 mm Hg if:
If your blood pressure is above 140/90 on a regular basis then you have high blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend these tests to check for underlying conditions that can cause hypertension:
Depending on the patient’s situation, there may be two pathways to controlling high blood pressure. Your doctor will work with you to decide which pathway is the best for you:
Lifestyle changes that can reduce high blood pressure include physical activity, weight loss, better sleep, healthy eating, less salt, less or no alcohol, no smoking, and reduced stress.
Medications used to treat high blood pressure include:
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, you should schedule regular follow-up visits with your doctor. You may be scheduled for a two-week follow‐up appointment first and then monthly follow‐up appointments until your blood pressure is under control.
Once your blood pressure is under control, you may be scheduled for regular 6‐month, and then annual follow up appointments with your doctor. Regular follow-up appointments also allow you to ask questions and get the care you need.
If there are underlying causes for your high blood pressure, you may be referred to a doctor that works with that specific disease.
Blood pressure management requires a lifelong commitment. You can control your blood pressure by making these lifestyle changes:
Measure your blood pressure at home and fill a daily calendar of your measurements. Here is information from the American Heart Association on how to take your own blood pressure. This will help your doctor know if your medication is working or if you're having complications.
Women with high blood pressure should discuss with their doctors how to control their blood pressure during pregnancy.
Presbyterian Heart and Vascular Care has a skilled vascular care team who can provide a wide range of services from diagnosis to treatment. Their surgeons are trained in many different techniques and procedures, many of which can provide you with a shorter recovery period and less hospital time.