Your primary care physician may perform a routine blood pressure test during a regular exam. An inflatable cuff is placed around your upper arm and your blood pressure is measured using a pressure-measuring gauge. The pressure is measured in millimeters of Mercury (or mm Hg) and the upper value represents your systolic blood pressure (pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), while the bottom number represents your diastolic blood pressure (pressure in your arteries between beats). But what do these measurements represent and if you have high blood pressure, how can you manage it?
Blood pressure readings fall into four categories:
- Normal blood pressure, in the range of 120/80 mm Hg or less.
- Pre-hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 120 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg.
- Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 140 to 159 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 90 to 99 mm Hg.
- Stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 160 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 100 mm Hg or higher.
These values indicate the overall health of your heart and condition of your arteries.
High Blood Pressure Diagnosis
If your blood pressure values are higher than normal, your doctor will likely run additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and check for any underlying conditions that may contribute to your high blood pressure. Routine tests such as urine tests (urinalysis), blood tests, tests for cholesterol levels, an electrocardiogram, and even an echocardiogram may be performed to check for signs of heart disease and other conditions. After confirming or ruling out of any additional medical concerns, your health care practitioner will work with you to establish a treatment program.
Management & Treatment Techniques
Many factors may contribute to high blood pressure and some can be easily controlled.
First, your doctor will work with you to identify areas for improvement in your lifestyle—these techniques may be effective in reducing and managing high blood pressure.
Controllable lifestyle factors include:
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced, and low-sodium diet
- Reducing and/or limiting alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing caffeine consumption
- Reducing stress
- Getting regular exercise and physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
It is important to keep in mind that high blood pressure may be hereditary. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that risk for high blood pressure can increase even more when heredity combines with unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes and eating an unhealthy diet.
If following the guidance above does not significantly reduce your high blood pressure, your doctor may suggest other treatment techniques, including medications. There are dozens of medications available to lower high blood pressure. A few of the most common include:
- Thiazide diuretics, which act on your kidneys to help your body eliminate sodium and water, in turn reducing blood volume.
- Beta blockers, which reduce the workload on your heart and open your blood vessels, thus causing your heart to beat slower and less forcefully.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), which help relax blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers, which help relax the muscles in blood vessels and may also slow your heartbeat.
- Renin inhibitors, which slow down the production of renin, an enzyme produced by your kidneys that leads to increased blood pressure.
While the list of treatment and management options may seem intimidating, your primary care physician will work with you to create an effective treatment and management plan that works for you and fits your way of life. It’s important to note that you cannot simply treat and then ignore high blood pressure. It is a condition that will need to be monitored and managed throughout your lifetime.
You’re Not Alone
High blood pressure impacts nearly 75 million Americans—that’s 29% of the country’s adult population. Men and women are equally at risk of developing high blood pressure. 7 in 10 US adults with diagnosed high blood pressure use medications to treat the condition and approximately 54% of adults with diagnosed high blood pressure have the condition under control. You are not alone in your diagnosis.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or are struggling with your diagnosis, there are support networks and resources readily available both locally and online. These groups offer community advice on lifestyle management techniques and provide a network for those coping with high blood pressure. As with any medical condition, please consult with your doctor before trying any new treatment or management options.
At NWPC, our expert primary care providers are here to give you the medical care, resources, and treatment and management options you need, from high blood pressure diagnosis to long-term maintenance.
View our infographic that shares 5 Tips to Manage Your Blood Pressure at Home, read on for actionable steps to take!