Each time your heart beats it pumps blood through your body. As the blood moves, it pushes against the walls of your blood vessels. Blood pressure is the measure of how much pressure is being placed on the blood vessel walls when the heart contracts (systolic blood pressure; the top number) and when it relaxes (diastolic blood pressure; the bottom number).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), an estimated 1 in 3 people in the United States have high blood pressure (HBP), and since HBP often does not have any symptoms, many do not know they have it. With or without symptoms, however, it continues to damage blood vessels over time causing damage to the arteries, the heart, and the brain. Having your blood pressure checked regularly is the key to preventing irreversible heart disease or a stroke.
Advances in blood pressure treatment
Thank goodness, we know a lot more about testing for and treating high blood pressure than we used to. The first method of testing a person’s blood pressure involved placing a tube inside someone’s artery and according to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine the treatment for high blood pressure, or “hard pulse disease” was the literal reduction in the quantity of a person’s blood by bloodletting or leeches.
While we have come a long way by the middle of the 19thCentury, as late as the 1960s and 1970s, medical providers used arbitrary guidelines that still seriously underestimated the dangers of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. For example, in the late 1970s simply adding 100 to a person’s age was an acceptable way to calculate someone’s blood pressure. This formula meant that a 60-year-old could have a systolic blood pressure reading of 160.
Later, a blood pressure reading of 140/90 was considered high blood pressure. But, near the end of 2017 that number was lowered to 130/80; the first change in 14 years. Further, people with readings as low as 120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic now get categorized as having elevated blood pressure (American Heart Association, 2017a)
Better habits for healthy blood pressure
While the new guidelines mean more people will receive a diagnosis of high blood pressure, more people than ever will have the opportunity to collaborate with their provider to make lifestyle changes as a first-line treatment.
Lifestyle changes include eating a well-balanced, low-salt diet, limiting alcohol, getting regular physical activity, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and taking medications as prescribed (American Heart Association, 2017b)
It may take time to reach your blood pressure goals, so it is important to work with your healthcare provider to create a plan that’s best for you. Be honest with yourself and your provider about your barriers to better health; they may have suggestions or know of programs that can help.
Nicole Labunski, RN/Case Manager, reviewed the information presented here.
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American Heart Association (2017a). Detailed summary from the 2017 guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation and management of high blood pressure in adults. Retrieved from http://professional.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_497446.pdf
American Heart Association (2017b). Make changes that matter. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/MakeChangesThatMatter/Changes-You-Can-Make-to-Manage-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_002054_Article.jsp
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). High blood pressure. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm