What Is Blood Pressure and What Are Its Symptoms?

What Is Blood Pressure?
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

What Is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure simply refers to a measure of how forceful the heart pumps blood throughout the body. In order to determine blood pressure, there are two measurements recorded within one heartbeat. The first one is when the pressure is at its highest (systolic pressure) or the level of pressure when the heart pumps blood throughout the arteries and body. The second one is when the pressure is at its lowest (diastolic pressure) or the level of pressure when the heart is at a resting state right before it pumps again.

Blood Pressure is measured in mmHg (millimetres of mercury). There are two readings given as levels or numbers. The systolic reading comes first followed by the diastolic reading. As an example, if the systolic reading is 130mmHg and the diastolic reading is 90mmHg, the blood pressure reading is 130 over 90 and this is usually written as 130/90.

What Are The Categories of Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is basically categorized as normal, high or low. If a person consistently has a reading of at least 140/90, he/she may have hypertension or high blood pressure. This increases* risk of certain health conditions including cardiovascular disease. Generally, the ideal blood pressure for healthy young adults is 120/80 or lower. However, some people have abnormally low blood pressure which may be caused by an underlying health issue that needs treatment. The reading for low blood pressure is 90/60 or lower. If you think you have high or low blood pressure, it would be best to consult your healthcare provider.

Measuring Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is easily measured using a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure cuff. This is a device that has a small pressure gauge which is connected to a cuff. The cuff is inflatable which is wrapped around the upper arm but there are also blood pressure cuffs for the forearm of wrist. The person checking the blood pressure uses a stethoscope to listen to the blood moving through the artery and determine the systolic and diastolic reading. There are also automatic battery operated blood pressure measuring devices but these are less* accurate and may give incorrect readings if the machine is defective or if the battery level is low.

How Often Should Blood Pressure Get Checked?

If you have normal blood pressure (120/80 or less*), you just need to check it yearly or as frequent as your healthcare provider suggests. For people with borderline high blood pressure (120-139/80-89), check it twice a year or as often as suggested by your healthcare provider. Although considered borderline high blood pressure, it may be considered high depending on other medical issues. If you blood pressure is at least 140/90, you need to consult your doctor since this is considered high blood pressure. Regular measurement is important in order to manage blood pressure and prevent complications.

Can You Check Your Blood Pressure At Home?

If you have high blood pressure, it is sensible to learn how to measure your blood pressure at home or have someone in the household who can help you measure your blood pressure. This will help you and your healthcare provider keep close track of your blood pressure and determine if the treatment is working or not. There are easy-to-use and reliable blood pressure measurement devices that you can use at home. Ask your doctor about the best option on how to monitor your blood pressure at home.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

The exact causes of high blood pressure are still unclear but there are certain factors that are known to contribute to its development including the following:

  • Having excess weight or obesity.
  • Low level of physical activity.
  • Smoking.
  • High salt intake.
  • High consumption of alcohol (2 or more drinks per day).
  • High levels of stress.
  • Genetics.
  • Chronic kidney disease.
  • Disorders of the thyroid or adrenal glands.

Blood pressure, which is the collective name given to the ratio of systolic over diastolic pressure, is a measure of the force experienced by blood vessels when blood flows through them due to the pumping action of the heart.

Systolic pressure refers to the force exerted on the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts during a heartbeat whereas diastolic pressure refers to the force that these arteries experience when heart relaxes* during each beat.

What are the Symptoms of Blood Pressure?

A number of symptoms are associated with hypertension (or high blood pressure) which includes sweating, nervousness, troubled sleep and facial flushing but the truth is that these aren’t the most reliable indicators of an individual suffering from high blood pressure. Hypertension is, by large, without any outward symptoms which is why it is especially dangerous. The only way to be certain of your blood pressure is to check it regularly and consult with your physician.

Mythical Symptoms

Here are some symptoms that are typically linked to hypertension but, in truth, have no or little evidence to support* their status as hypertension indicators:

  • Headaches – It was believed in the early 20th century that having high blood pressure increased the frequency of headaches but a research published in the Neurology, a medical journal, actually showed that people with a high systolic blood pressure were actually 40% less* likely to suffer from headaches.
  • Nosebleeds – Contrary to popular belief, nosebleeds are not a good indicator of all types of hypertension. In fact, only 17% of the people treated for hypertensive emergency reported suffering from nosebleeds. Only in the case of severe hypertensive crises do they occur, and even then, they aren’t a very common occurrence which is why they should only be given attention if they are frequent and persistent.

Indirect or Inconclusive Symptoms

These symptoms are linked to hypertension in one way or another, but a self-diagnosis on these shouldn’t be performed because in spite of their link to HBP, they may be caused by a number of other factors which have nothing to do with hypertension.

  • Blood Spots in Eyes – Also known as subconjunctival hemorrhage, it is indeed more commonly occurring in those who suffer from hypertension or diabetes, but there is no established cause and effect link between these two conditions and this symptom. If you detect this symptom, you should consult an ophthalmologist who will be able to ascertain whether there has been damage to your optic nerve because of untreated high blood pressure.
  • Facial Flushing – Occurring due to the dilation of facial blood vessels, this symptom can be brought on by a number of factors including cold weather, exposure to the sun, spicy foods, hot drinks, wind, thermal exposure, emotional strain, alcohol consumption and working out. Basically all these factors temporarily raise the blood pressure which leads to dilated blood vessels. In spite of this, there is no evidence of a direct link to hypertension.
  • Dizziness – Dizziness may occur as a side effect of hypertension medication but never directly due to high blood pressure. It should not be ignored though, particularly if it occurs suddenly, because sudden disorientation and dizziness are indicators of stroke which is a condition that has hypertension as one of its risk factors.

True Symptoms

The most worrisome thing about hypertension is that it works in silence. There are little or no obvious indicators, as in the case of most other diseases, that one is suffering from high blood pressure. It keeps on elevating until it reaches the hypertensive crisis threshold of 180/110 mm Hg (or either the upper or lower value) at which point the person may experience symptoms such as extreme headaches, anxiety, lack of breath, nosebleeds, vomiting, confusion, some chest pain, defective vision, dizziness, fatigue etc. However, these symptoms aren’t very useful in nipping hypertension in the bud since, by the time they manifest themselves, the water has crossed the bridge and the individual is at serious risk of mortal harm if not provided with immediate medical treatment.

Symptoms of Hypotension

Most of the emphasis is laid on having abnormally high blood pressure, but the converse is also possible. Low blood pressure, also known as hypotension, is characterized by lightheadedness/dizziness, fainting, blurred vision, nausea, fatigue and confusion.

In some cases hypotension may last for a few seconds or minutes if you rapidly get to your feet after sitting or lying down for a long time. This is known as orthostatic hypotension and isn’t dangerous as its duration is fleeting.

Severe hypotension causes the blood vessels to relax so much that the body’s vital organs, including the brain, do not get sufficient blood/oxygen. This leads to shock which is characterized by a weakened, rapid pulse; shallow breath; drowsiness and cold, clammy skin. This is the dangerous kind of hypotension that must be reported immediately.

The Centers for Disease Control* and Prevention, or CDC for short, refers to high blood pressure as the ‘silent killer’ because it does not reveal itself through warning symptoms or signs until it reaches highly dangerous levels – many individuals may not even be aware that they have it. The only tried and tested way to know whether you are suffering from high blood pressure or not is to measure and keep track of your blood pressure – a painless process that won’t take much of your time. You can do this either by the aid* of a doctor or by using a blood pressure monitor at home and comparing the readings to a standard blood pressure classification chart.

Who Is More Likely To Develop High Blood Pressure?

  • Smokers.
  • African Americans.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People who have a family history of high blood pressure.
  • Women taking birth control* pills.
  • People 36 years of age and older.
  • Inactive people.
  • Overweight or obese individuals.
  • Excessive alcohol consumers.
  • People who eat a lot of fatty and salty food.
  • Individuals suffering from sleep apnea.

Final Words

High blood pressure is often referred to as a “silent killer” because even if a person has high blood pressure, there is a possibility that there are no symptoms. Some of the major symptoms of high blood pressure when left untreated are stroke, heart attack or damage to the kidneys. It is important to check your blood pressure and monitor it closely if you have borderline hypertension or high blood pressure.

Blood Pressure

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.