Hypertension or high blood pressure is a medical disease defined as blood pumping through the arteries at an abnormally higher pressure. If your blood pressure remains high chronically, the higher resistance will wear down the pump that pushes blood through your body (your heart). Unlike other conditions like migraine headache or sciatica, obvious symptoms often do NOT accompany high blood pressure. Raised blood pressure remains the leading cause of death globally, as it leads to severe health consequences such as heart failure, stroke, sexual dysfunction, heart attack, and ruptured aneurysm. IF you wait until symptoms occur before addressing blood pressure, you waited too long.
A blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer) that wraps around your arm is the preferred method to detect hypertension. Important points to accurately collect your blood pressure include:
Blood pressure is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) and represented by two numbers. The upper number is called systolic and represents the maximum pressure in your arteries during a heartbeat squeeze when the heart is accelerating blood throughout your body. The lower number is called diastolic pressure and reflects the lowest pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart is relaxing to fill with blood.
According to the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) in 2017, blood pressure measurements are in four categories:
Both systolic and diastolic numbers are important and if either one is elevated will predict disease risk. One measurement is not sufficient to diagnose you with high blood pressure unless severely high. Your doctor will take two to three readings at multiple appointments to determine if you have hypertension OR combine an office measurement with multiple home readings. The reason to use more than one blood pressure reading is that measurements will vary throughout the day depending on emotions, activity, age, heart conditions, or medications prescribed.
The American Heart Association recommends that all patients with hypertension regularly measure blood pressure at home between appointments. You can purchase an automated arm cuff for less than $100. Many companies make excellent devices and purchase recommendations are readily available. Any licensed healthcare provider can measure your blood pressure also, including at a pharmacy or fire station.
Home blood pressure recordings are especially important as they represent your blood pressure in the real world, other than just the doctor’s office. Typically, home numbers are 5-10 points lower than the doctor’s office.
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