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Blood Pressure: What you need to know

Posted Sep 26th, 2012 by Patient Assistance Team

When most of us think of blood pressure, we think of the risk of heart disease and stroke that comes with an elevated blood pressure reading. But exactly what is blood pressure?

Blood pressure, like heart rate, is one of the primary vital signs that doctors and medical professionals regard when evaluating a patient. Simply put, blood pressure is the pressure exerted on the walls blood vessels of circulating blood. Every time the heart beats, blood pressure oscillates between a maximum or systolic pressure or beat and a minimum or diastolic pressure or beat. It is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the more constricted your arteries, the higher your blood pressure will be.

Blood pressure is typically taken on an individual’s upper arm as it gives the blood pressure of the brachial artery, which is a major artery in the upper arm. Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers: the systolic pressure over diastolic pressure and is measured in millimeters of mercury. An example would be 150/90. Readings of blood pressure can vary from moment to moment. Blood pressure is highest in the afternoons and reaches its lowest mark in the evening.


Normal blood pressure is generally considered anywhere between 90-119 for systolic and 60-79 for diastolic. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases progressively above 115/75 blood pressure reading. A number of factors such as age and gender can influence a reading as can exercise ability, emotional reactions, sleep, digestion and the time of day.

According to the Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure or hypertension is a common condition in which the force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease.

Most people with high blood pressure don’t experience any overt symptoms other than their elevated blood pressure reading. Some though may experience headaches, nosebleeds or dizziness.

Risk Factors

There are two types of high blood pressure: Primary or essential hypertension develops gradually over the years and has no specific cause. Secondary hypertension occurs as a result of another condition such as having a kidney condition or taking certain kinds of medication.

According to the Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure has many risk factors, including:

  • Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Through early middle age, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause.
  • Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks, often developing at an earlier age than it does in whites.
  • Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families.
  • Being overweight or obese.
  • Not being physically active.
  • Using tobacco.
  • Too much salt (sodium) in your diet. Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
  • Too little potassium in your diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don't get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
  • Too little vitamin D in your diet. It's uncertain if having too little vitamin D in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart.
  • Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary, but dramatic, increase in blood pressure.
  • Certain chronic conditions. Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, including high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea.

Preventing high blood pressure involves following a healthy lifestyle by not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a plant-based diet, limiting alcohol, and practicing stress reduction strategies.


Treatment of high blood pressure may depend upon the kind of hypertension you have been diagnosed with: primary or secondary. Following the healthy lifestyle behaviors listed above can significantly impact your need to stay on prescription blood pressure medication.

The most common treatment for hypertension is taking a regular blood pressure medication. Today, there are a number of different types of blood pressure reducing medication, all of which carry their own benefits and side effects. In order to determine what kind of medication is best for you, you must work with your medical provider so that he or she can take into effect your entire health history and current lifestyle