Here are answers to your frequently asked questions about hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure.
While the cause of high blood pressure in most people remains unclear, inactivity, poor diet, obesity, older age, and genetics — can all contribute to the development of hypertension.
The blood pressure reading is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is written as systolic pressure, the force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats, over diastolic pressure, the blood pressure between heartbeats. For example, a blood pressure reading is written as 120/80 mmHg, or “120 over 80”. The systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80.
The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure has classified blood pressure measurements into several categories:
Several potentially serious health conditions are linked to high blood pressure, including:
High blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms, so you usually don’t feel it. For that reason, hypertension is usually diagnosed by a health care professional during a routine checkup. If you have a close relative with hypertension, or other risk factors, it is especially important to pay attention to your blood pressure reading.
If your blood pressure is extremely high, you may have unusually strong headaches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or poor exercise tolerance. If you have any of these symptoms, seek an evaluation promptly.
High blood pressure treatment usually involves making lifestyle changes and, if necessary, drug therapy.
Lifestyle changes for high blood pressure include:
Commonly prescribed high blood pressure drugs include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and alpha-blockers (alpha-adrenergic antagonists).
If you are over age 60, the goal of hypertension treatment is a systolic pressure of 150 and a diastolic pressure of 90. The goal of treatment is 140/90 for those under age 60. For people over 65, the goal bp is less than 130/85.
As is true with any medication, high blood pressure drugs have side effects. Among the most common are the following:
A healthy diet, such as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, is effective in helping to lower high blood pressure. The DASH diet calls for a certain number of daily servings from various food groups, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The following steps can also help:
If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis. He or she can answer your questions during these visits.
However, there may be other times when you may need to speak to your doctor. For instance:
Some drugs that you take for another condition may increase blood pressure. These include amphetamines, methylphenidate (Concerta, Metadate, Methylin, Ritalin), corticosteroids, hormones (including birth control pills), certain migraine medications, cyclosporine, and erythropoietin.
Also, many over-the-counter medications that contain pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (for example, allergy and cold medicines and appetite suppressants) can increase blood pressure.
Don’t stop taking any prescribed medication, including high blood pressure drugs, without talking to your doctor.