Understanding systolic and diastolic measurements
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure. The top number (systolic pressure) refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart pumps blood through the body. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is filling with blood.
How “high” is high blood pressure?
A healthy blood pressure is less than 120/80. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90 (known as pre-hypertension), talk to a doctor about ways to lower it with diet and exercise. If your blood pressure is more than 140/90, there are safe and effective prescription medications to bring your numbers down.
The only way to find out if you have hypertension is to get your blood pressure checked regularly, especially if you have relatives with hypertension.
Risks of untreated high blood pressure
Hypertensive heart disease is a medical condition that results from prolonged and untreated high blood pressure. This can lead to the enlargement of the heart muscle. An enlarged heart has severe consequences. It can cause heart failure and heart muscle “burnout” in which the heart muscle first thickens, then gradually thins out and doesn't squeeze (pump) as efficiently. This leads to shortness of breath and swelling of the legs.
Treatment for high blood pressure
Hypertension is treated several ways. If necessary, your health care provider will prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure.
Most people start on one medication, often a diuretic. But many individuals may need to be treated more aggressively with a combination of drugs.
There are dozens of combination medications, but most drugs for hypertension fall into four general categories:
- Diuretics bring blood pressure down by making you eliminate fluid and salt from your body.
- ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers relax or widen blood vessels by diminishing the effects of a hormone that makes them constrict.
- Beta blockers exert many actions upon the body, including lowering your heart rate.
- Calcium channel blockers relax heart and blood vessel cells by preventing calcium from entering them
You and your health care provider will work together to find the best ways to reduce your high blood pressure to a healthier level.