Signs of High Blood Pressure

According to guidelines set by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure.[1] If you don’t have high blood pressure yourself, chances are you know someone who does. Being aware of high blood pressure and hypertension is critical. When left undiagnosed, it can lead to heart attack, stroke, or other dangerous health conditions. The first step towards preventing or mitigating the risks of high blood pressure is recognizing the issue. While it is often called the “silent killer,” there are some common signs and symptoms of high blood pressure you can watch out for.[2]

What Is Blood Pressure & How Is It Measured?

Blood pressure is the pressure or force of the blood as it moves through your circulatory system. It is most commonly measured using a tool called a sphygmomanometer. You have probably used one of these instruments before even if you don’t recognize the name. It uses an inflatable arm cuff that puts pressure on the artery to measure the systolic and diastolic pressure on your blood vessels.

To get these readings, blood pressure monitors use a gauge with a measurement unit called millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Your blood pressure is read using two standard numbers, systolic and diastolic. A typical blood pressure reading may look something like 120/80 mmHg, which is read aloud as 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury. Most people will also drop the last part and only say the numbers—120 over 80.[3]

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What Is Systolic Blood Pressure?

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The systolic number appears on top of the blood pressure reading and is used to measure the pressure in your blood vessels each time your heart beats.

What Is Diastolic Blood Pressure?

The diastolic number appears at the bottom of the blood pressure reading and measures the pressure in the blood vessels in between heartbeats when the heart is at rest.

Blood Pressure Ranges

After you measure your blood pressure, you will probably want to know if it’s healthy or not. Depending on the numbers, your levels may be considered normal, elevated, or high. Before coming to a conclusion based off of a single test, you should know several factors can skew your results. Your emotional state, your morning coffee, and even the temperature of the room all can alter the results. Your health care provider can help minimize these interruptions for a more precise reading.

Here are the accepted ranges for blood pressure and what they mean.[3]

  • Normal: Systolic less than 120 and diastolic less than 80
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Stage 1 Hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90
  • Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 or diastolic over 120

What Is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is when your blood circulates with elevated force. The increase in pressure puts stress on your blood vessels, heart, and arteries. This strain is what leads to heart disease and other detrimental side effects on vital organs like your brain and kidneys. Blood pressure is something that ebbs and flows. It will rise and lower depending on many different internal and external forces.

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What Is Hypertension?

Hypertension is a medical designation for those with consistently high blood pressure. Usually, this diagnosis won’t occur until a person has consistently high blood pressure readings over a period of weeks or months. One occurrence of high blood pressure, while not ideal, does not always mean you have hypertension.

In casual conversation, high blood pressure and hypertension often are used interchangeably. Even your doctor may say you have high blood pressure instead of the more technical distinction of hypertension. You should be aware of the differences. Hypertension is an ever-present issue that will require significant changes to your lifestyle and diet.

Hypertension Types

There are several types of hypertension. Here are the most common varieties.

Essential Hypertension

Around 95 percent of those with hypertension have this type. People are diagnosed with essential hypertension after having three or more readings of high blood pressure. The key characteristic of essential hypertension is that there is no identifiable cause for the high blood pressure.[4]

Secondary Hypertension

Around 5 percent of those diagnosed with hypertension have secondary hypertension. The main difference between this and essential hypertension is that secondary has one or more identifiable causes. In most cases, this underlying cause can be corrected, putting an end to the high blood pressure. In 85 percent of cases involving children and hypertension, secondary hypertension is the diagnosis.[5]

Isolated Systolic Hypertension (ISH)

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In most cases of hypertension, the systolic and diastolic numbers rise together. However, there are occasions where just one will be abnormal. Anytime the systolic number, which appears on the top, is above 40 and the diastolic remains in the 60 to 80 range it is considered isolated systolic hypertension (ISH). After 65, people are more likely to develop ISH as their arteries deteriorate and become more elastic. ISH is a red flag for many heart-related issues.[6]

Isolated Diastolic Hypertension (IDH)

Isolated diastolic hypertension (IDH) is similar to isolated systolic hypertension except in reverse. It is where your systolic number remains in the normal range, and your diastolic numbers are 90 or higher. This kind of hypertension is far less common than any other type. Those with IDH are far more likely to have their systolic numbers rise over time.[7]

Malignant Hypertension

Malignant hypertension is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. It only occurs in about 1% of those with hypertension. It happens when there is a sharp rise in blood pressure in a very short period. Malignant hypertension can damage your organs and should be treated immediately by a health care professional. Signs and symptoms include chest pain, impaired vision, and numbness in the legs or arms.[8]

Resistant Hypertension

Resistant hypertension is not receptive to antihypertensive medications. This is the case for about 30% of people with hypertension. In these cases, the cause can be genetic or related to other health issues like weight, diabetes, or kidney disease.[9]

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