If you have had a medical appointment, you have surely had your blood pressure checked before. Your practitioner will check your blood pressure through an arm cuff, and give you two numbers, which may be meaningless to you. We will explore what exactly your blood pressure is, and what it can tell you about your health.
What Is Blood Pressure?
As your heart beats, blood is pumped around your body delivering energy and oxygen. Your blood moves through blood vessels and it pushes against their sides. The strength of this pushing is your blood pressure. If this pressure is high, called hypertension, it causes strain on your arteries and your heart. There are two numbers that measure blood pressure. The top number measures the force put on the arteries when the heart beats, and is referred to as systolic. The second, or bottom, number is the pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats, and is referred to as diastolic. The systolic reading is usually higher and a normal reading is about 120 in adults. The diastolic reading is usually lower, and a normal adult reading is usually about 80. Blood pressure above 140/90 is considered high, and qualifies as hypertension. While these numbers are guidelines, everyone is different, and having regular blood pressure readings is important for tracking your personal health.
Blood Pressure Fluctuates
Just one high reading does not mean that you have chronic hypertension. Small fluctuations occur day to day in your blood pressure, and your blood pressure can even be different depending on which arm is monitored. For many people blood pressure readings can be higher in the middle of the day with the lowest readings in the morning. Food and drink can change your blood pressure, and even the position you are in during your reading can have an impact. Eating a lot of sodium can cause a rise in blood pressure, and caffeine can also temporarily raise your blood pressure. Blood pressure can also fluctuate due to illness, medications, or stress. If you have anxiety or fear your blood pressure will be elevated. Over the counter decongestants can also raise blood pressure. Again, because of these fluctuations, regularly monitoring your blood pressure is essential for tracking trends in your readings, not just the numbers on one specific occasion.
Low Blood Pressure
Low blood pressure is usually a good thing. In a healthy person, low blood pressure is great as long as the systolic pressure is above 80. However, sometimes a low blood pressure reading can indicate a problem. If you have heart disease, heart failure can occur if blood pressure drops too low. Another condition, called orthostatic hypotension, occurs when the blood pressure drops 10 to 20 points when a person moves from a flat, sitting position to an upright, standing position. So while low blood pressure is usually what you are aiming for, you need to be careful if your blood pressure suddenly drops, or is accompanied by other health concerns.
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is something to be on the watch for, but it is not necessarily something you will feel. High blood pressure can be doing damage silently in your body, and you won’t know unless you are regularly monitoring it.
The increased pressure of blood flowing through your veins can cause damaged or narrowed arteries, as the elasticity is lost. Fats can collect in these damaged arteries, and this can limit the blood flow. Eventually, constant high pressure can cause a weakened artery to bulge (this is called an aneurysm). An aneurysm could rupture, and lead to internal bleeding that can be life-threatening.
Damage to your heart can also occur with high blood pressure. Coronary artery disease narrows the arteries, and can lead to chest pain, arrhythmia, or heart attack. High blood pressure can lead to coronary artery disease, and can also lead to an enlarged left heart. The left ventricle can thicken when it has to work harder to pump the blood through your body, and this can affect its performance. Chronic high blood pressure can also lead to heart failure from the strain.
Your brain depends on the blood that is pumped throughout your body, and high blood pressure can cause problems here as well. A stroke can occur when your brain is deprived of oxygen, and uncontrolled high blood pressure damages vessels, and can cause blood clots to form. Dementia can also be caused by high blood pressure, as the arteries are damaged and cut off supply of blood to the brain. The brain depends on the proper blood pressure.
Your kidneys are dependent on healthy blood vessels, and high blood pressure can interfere with the kidney’s function. When your kidneys become damaged they can’t filter waste out of your blood, and you might need a kidney transplant or dialysis to help effectively clean the blood. Weakened blood vessels in the kidneys, and aneurysms, can also lead to internal bleeding and other life-threatening conditions.
High blood pressure can also affect the vessels that supply blood to your eyes, and can lead to blurred vision and even vision loss. Nerve cells in your eyes can be killed when blood flow to them is blocked, and this can also cause eye bleeding or vision loss.
As you can see, blood pressure can affect every part of your body, as it damages cells and interferes with blood delivery.
High Blood Pressure Warning Signs
While high blood pressure can be silently damaging your body for years, there are some warning signs that you should be aware of. If your blood pressure rises suddenly you can experience memory loss, personality changes, stroke, chest pain, heart attack, shortness of breath, and more. If you experience any of these warning signs you need to seek medical attention immediately.
Treating High Blood Pressure
Your practitioner will work with you if you do have high blood pressure to lower it, and you may try lifestyle changes to start. Losing weight can have a big impact on your blood pressure, and exercise and a healthy diet can work to help you lose the extra pounds. Watching the sodium in your diet is also helpful, and even small reductions can have a big impact on your blood pressure. Limiting alcohol, caffeine, and quitting smoking are all good steps towards a healthier life and a lower blood pressure. Destressing your life is very important in dealing with high blood pressure, and this can take time and work. If you have consistently had high blood pressure, getting a blood pressure cuff to use at home can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure and make sure it doesn’t continue to rise. While all of these measures can be helpful, your practitioner may decide that medication is necessary to keep your blood pressure in a good range.
As you can see, keeping tabs on your blood pressure is important for maintaining good health. If you are looking for a health clinic in Flint, American Health Specialist would love to serve you! Call us today to schedule an appointment and make sure your blood pressure is not too high.