High Blood Pressure

Hypertension and High Blood Pressure - Virtua Service

Take the Pressure off Your Heart and Arteries

Blood flows through your arteries (blood vessels) providing oxygen and nutrients essential to your cells. Sometimes that blood flow can build pressure and put stress on your heart and arteries. Over time, high blood pressure (also called hypertension) can damage your heart, kidney, brain and other organs.

Our heart care (cardiovascular) team will help you manage high blood pressure before it leads to more serious health problems.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, or primary hypertension, is defined as blood pressure equal to or higher than 140/90. Pre-hypertension is defined as a blood pressure reading of 120/80 to 139/89.

High blood pressure happens when the force of blood flow through the arteries is high enough to cause damage. It stretches arteries in the heart, sometimes to the point of bursting, putting you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Secondary hypertension occurs as the result of another disease, such as renal (kidney) disease, vascular disease or thyroid disease.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

People with hypertension usually don’t have any symptoms. Most people find out they have the disease when their doctor takes their blood pressure. If symptoms are present, they can include:

  • Headaches
  • Visual changes, such as blurry vision
  • Chest pain

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

Often, there isn’t a single cause of high blood pressure, but it can run in families. Other risk factors include:

  • High-salt diet
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Age (risk increases over 45)
  • Certain conditions like kidney disease, vascular disease or thyroid disease (these can lead to secondary hypertension)
  • Pregnancy-related hypertension, known as pre-eclampsia. Even if blood pressure returns to normal after pregnancy, women who have the condition are more likely to have high blood pressure later in life.

How can you prevent high blood pressure?

Though you many not feel the effects, high blood pressure can damage your heart, brain and other organs. That’s why it’s important to reduce your risk. Use these tips to help lower your risk:

  • Be active every day for a total of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week.
  • Eat nutritious foods including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage stress.
  • Follow a low-salt diet at earlier age, which can prevent or reduce the severity of hypertension later in life. 

How is high blood pressure diagnosed?

When your nurse or doctor takes your blood pressure, it’s recorded as two numbers:

  • The pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (called systolic pressure).
  • The pressure in your arteries when your heart rests (called diastolic pressure).

Healthy blood pressure numbers range from less than 90/60 mmHg in children to less than 120/80 mmHg in adults (read as “90 over 60” or “120 over 80”). Blood pressure higher than 120/80 mmHg is pre-hypertension, hypertension stage 1 or hypertension stage 2, depending on the reading. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people who have diabetes or kidney disease should keep their blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg.

Stages  Top Number     Bottom Number 
Pre-hypertension  120–139   80–89
High blood pressure—stage 1   140–159 90–99
High blood pressure—stage 2  160 or higher 100 or higher               

For some patients, it may be difficult to get an accurate blood pressure reading at their physician's office. In cases where a patient receives one high blood pressure reading, but other readings are normal, a physician may recommend an ambulatory blood pressure test. During an ambulatory blood pressure test, the patient's blood pressure is monitored by a small, wearable device during their daily activities for a 24-hour period. This gives physicians a more accurate picture of the patient's blood pressure.

How is high blood pressure treated?

High blood pressure may be treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and medicine, and it's much of the same advice for preventing it. Your doctor may advise you to:

  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and low in salt.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get 150 minutes of moderate activity each week (such as 30 minutes a day, five days a week).
  • Take blood pressure medicine as directed.
  • Treat the underlying cause of secondary hypertension, such as renal disease, vascular disease or thyroid disease.

There are many types of medicines that can help lower blood pressure, including beta blockers and diuretics. Talk to your doctor about what type is right for you.

For some people, high blood pressure cannot be controlled with medication and lifestyle changes alone. This condition is known as resistance hypertension and requires further evaluation and advanced treatment.

When you’re first diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will check your blood pressure regularly. Later, you may be asked to track it at home with a blood pressure cuff. This cuff wraps around your upper arm and connects to a monitor. Ask your doctor about how to use your blood pressure cuff and record your results. 

If you have questions about hypertension, make an appointment with a Virtua heart care expert in South Jersey. Call 1-888-VIRTUA-3.

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