Let's start with breaking down the exact process first. When your pressure is taken the doctor places a cuff around your arm and wears a stethoscope to listen to your brachial artery (an artery that comes off of the arch of the aorta,
straight from the heart). The doctor then inflates the cuff to about 160 mm/hg. Then the pressure is slowly released and the doctor listens to hear when the pressure becomes low enough for the blood to start recirculating into the artery. This is the systolic pressure, the pressure that is placed on the arteries when the heart is contracting. The cuff continues to deflate until the doctor can no longer hear anything. When the doctor gets to that point, this is called the diastolic pressure, the pressure that is placed on the arteries when the heart is resting.
Blood pressure has several classifications. 'Normal' blood pressure is usually around 120/80 or below, prehypertension 120-139/80-89, stage 1 140-159/90-99 and stage 2 hypertension 160/100 or above. If you haven't had your pressure taken in a few years, you may have HBP (high blood pressure) and not even know it. The following are symptoms of high blood pressure: dizziness, palpitations, blurred vision, epistaxis (nosebleeds), or
hematuria (blood in the urine). You now know what these numbers stand for, but what about the consequences of having HBP.
There are many negative consequences of having HBP. One of them is an increase in arterial plaque. When your blood pressure is too high, there is increased stress on the arterial walls which can cause damage over time. Instead of having walls that are smooth and healthy they become rough, making them easy places for fat and cholesterol to stick to. Eventually these fatty cells accumulate, creating atherosclerosis or a build up of plaque in the arteries. This makes it hard for the blood to flow which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Other risks include: blindness, kidney failure, heart failure and organ damage.
Needless to say it is very important to know what your blood pressure is and keep it under control. Here's a quick and easy list of things that you can change in your life to help lower your blood pressure or maintain a healthy one:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Decrease the amount of salt you eat (look at the sodium content)
- Be more active, try starting an exercise routine
- Watch your alcohol consumption
- Lose the extra pounds
- Avoid caffeine
- Quit smoking
- Reduce stress
So that next time when the nurse or doctor takes your pressure and tells you a random number, it won't seem very random at all. You'll understand what those numbers represent, what's a good number, and ways to achieve a better blood pressure if yours is too high. If you are concerned about your blood pressure, stop by the office and I will check it for free. The health and wellbeing of my patients is my main concern!