High Blood Pressure Hypertension (cont.)
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
In this Article
- What is high blood pressure?
- What causes high blood pressure?
- How is blood pressure measured?
- What do blood pressure readings mean?
- What are the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure?
- How is high blood pressure diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for high blood pressure?
- What are the potential risks and complications of untreated high blood pressure?
- What dietary strategies can help lower high blood pressure?
- How does exercise help lower high blood pressure?
- Is complementary and alternative medicine effective for treating high blood pressure?
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How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is measured by a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). The blood pressure cuff consists of an air pump, a pressure gauge, and a rubber cuff. The instrument measures the blood pressure in units called millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).
The cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated with an air pump to a pressure that blocks the flow of blood in the main artery that travels through the arm. The arm is held at the side of the body at the level of the heart, and the pressure of the cuff is gradually released. As the pressure decreases, a health practitioner listens with a stethoscope over the artery at the front of the elbow or an electronic machine senses the pulsation. The pressure at which the practitioner (or machine) first hears a pulsation from the artery is the systolic pressure (the top number). As the cuff pressure decreases further, the pressure at which the pulsation finally stops is the diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
What do blood pressure readings mean?
Blood pressure readings can vary in a single person throughout the day depending on the situation. Factors such as stress, anxiety, foods eaten (caffeine or salt intake), smoking, or exercise can cause pressure to rise.
The American Heart Association defines a normal blood pressure as less than 120/80. Pre-hypertension ranges between 120/80 and 139/89, and high blood pressure is 140/90 and higher. In pregnancy normal blood pressure should be below 120/80.
If your blood pressure reaches into the high range, you should see your doctor about lifestyle modification and possibly medication especially if you have other risk factors, such as diabetes or heart disease.
High blood pressure (for example, 180/110 or higher) may indicate an emergency situation. If this high blood pressure is associated with chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, or back or abdominal pain, seek medical care immediately. If you are experiencing no associated symptoms with a high blood pressure reading such as this, re-check it again within a few minutes and contact your doctor or go to an emergency room if it is still high.
If your blood pressure is lower than about 100/60 you may have low blood pressure, depending on the associated symptoms. If you are unsure, check with your doctor.
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