Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushed against the the wall of the arteries, according to Nurse Practicioner Deborah Bergman, MS, RN, speaking to the Northwestern Memorial Healthy Transitions Program®.
Bergman explained that blood pressure depends on the strength of the heartbeat, thickness and volume of the blood, the elasticity of the artery walls and general health. It is the arterial pressure of the circulation. It is a dynamic process and fluctuates all day.
She said that blood pressure (BP) varies between a maximum (systolic) pressure – working phase. And the minimum (diastolic) pressure – the resting phase. Average blood pressure decreases as the blood moves away from the heart through the arteries. It drops most rapidly around the small arteries and continues to decrease as it moves through the capillaries and back to the heart through the veins.
Normal BP is 120/80, systolic/diastolic. Prehypertensive is 120-139 over 80-89. Stage one hypertension is 140-159 over 90 – 99. Stage two hypertension reads 160 -179 over 100 – 109.
Modifiable causes of high BP or hypertension include smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, dietary salt, alcohol consumption and stress.
Causes of high BP over which we have no control include older age, genetics, family history of high BP, chronic kidney disease and adrenal and thyroid disorders.
The Mayo Clinic said that most people with high BP have no signs of symptoms, even if BP readings reach dangerously high levels.
“Although a few people with early-stage high blood pressure may have dull headaches, dizzy spells or a few more nosebleeds than normal, these signs and symptoms typically don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe — even life-threatening — stage.
“Ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years starting at age 20. He or she will likely recommend more frequent readings if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”
Bergman said that high BP makes the heart work harder to pump blood. It contributes to hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis as well as the development of heart failure. Persistent hypertension is one of the risk factors for strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, arterial aneurysms and is the leading cause of chronic renal failure.
The good news is that there are many resources for checking our blood pressure, so no one needs to be ignorant of his condition. There are often machines in large drug store chains which are free and give reasonably accurate readings.