Under Pressure?

What to Know About Prehypertension and Hypertension

Did you know that May is high blood pressure education month? We all know normal blood pressure is important to a well-functioning body. Why else would blood pressure measurements be included along with the vital signs at a doctor’s office? Though not on the same “vital” level as respiration, body temperature and pulse, blood pressure gives medical professionals a picture of our health at present and in the future. 

Put simply in the words of Medical News Today, blood pressure is the force that moves our blood around our body. Our blood functions as the transportation for many things we need to be healthy: white blood cells, nutrients and oxygen, to name a few. 

How to Understand Your Blood Pressure Reading

When a nurse puts the blood pressure cuff on your arm and measures your blood pressure, be in the habit of asking about the measurement, and make sure you understand what the terms “systolic” and “diastolic” mean, so you can stay more informed about your own body. 

Systolic – Also known as the “top number” of a blood pressure reading, the systolic pressure indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when your heart beats, according to Heart.org. 

Diastolic – Also known as the “bottom number” in the reading, the diastolic pressure indicates the pressure of your blood against your artery walls when your heart is resting between beats — thus, the top number is higher because it measures the pressure during a heartbeat. 

Typically, more attention is paid to the top number, since a high systolic pressure can mean a greater risk of stroke, heart disease and other issues. However, both numbers are important and can lead to a diagnosis of prehypertension or hypertension. 

When is the Best Time to Take A Blood Pressure Reading? 

If you have certain risk factors or a history of elevated or high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, a doctor may suggest you monitor your blood pressure at home. At-home tests are gaining popularity, according to Harvard Health, and, while the time of day doesn’t really matter, you’ll want to pick a time of day that works for you and stick to it — as well as consistently using the same arm and relaxing for five minutes (no coffee or traffic!) before measuring. 

What are the Risk Factors for Having High Blood Pressure? 

Certain risk factors can equal elevated or high blood pressure, and, if you spot yourself on this list, it’s prudent to have your blood pressure checked more frequently, either at home or with a physician. According to the Mayo Clinic, these risk factors are: 

Body Weight – Being overweight means more blood working harder to circulate throughout your body. 

Sex – Elevated blood pressure, especially prior to age 55, is more common among men. 

Race – People of African-Caribbean races are more likely to develop elevated or high blood pressure.

Family History – If a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, has high blood pressure, it’s important to monitor your own. 

Lifestyle – A sedentary lifestyle can lead to elevated blood pressure. 

Diet –Because sodium and potassium are nutrients the body uses to regulate blood pressure, high sodium and/or low potassium can lead to elevated blood pressure. 

Tobacco Use – Both smoking and secondhand smoke can increase blood pressure. 

Alcohol Consumption – Alcohol use has been associated with elevated blood pressure, particularly in men.

Chronic Illness – Kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea, among other illnesses, can increase the risk of elevated blood pressure.

What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure, Also Known as Hypertension? 

Let’s talk about a few of the warning signs that your blood pressure may be too high. High blood pressure manifests in several different ways. Among them, according to WebMD, are: 

•  Headaches 

•  Nosebleeds 

•  Confusion 

•  Vision problems

•  Pounding in chest, neck or ears 

•  Blood in urine

•  Difficulty breathing

Though medicines for high blood pressure do exist, treatment for hypertension doesn’t always have to be medication. Heart.org suggests these tactics, particularly for stopping slightly elevated blood pressure before it gets higher: 

• Eat a well-balanced diet that is low in salt and high in whole grains and produce. 

•  Limit alcoholic beverages, caffeinated beverages and sugary beverages. 

•  Enjoy regular physical activity. 

•  Maintain a healthy weight. 

•  Quit smoking or vaping. 

•  Take your medications properly if you are already taking medications to control blood pressure. 

• Work together with your doctor and monitor blood pressure at home. 

Prehypertension: A New Diagnosis

Several years ago, hypertension was diagnosed as having a blood pressure measurement greater than 140 for systolic and 90 for diastolic. Now that measurement is known as Stage 2 hypertension, while Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic measurement between 130 and 139 and a diastolic measurement between 80 and 89. Meanwhile, the newer category of prehypertension, or elevated blood pressure, is classified as a systolic measurement between 120-129. 

Because elevated blood pressure, or prehypertension, does not have the symptoms that high blood pressure has, it’s important to pay close attention to measurements and tweak your lifestyle accordingly to stop the pressure from escalating. 

Written by: Denise K. James

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