By: Meg Irish
According to the American Heart Association, more than 100 million Americans have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Hypertension puts you at greater risk for various cardiovascular diseases including heart disease, stroke, and sometimes death. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently high. This contributes to hardening of the arteries because the heart is continuously working harder to pump blood around the body.
According to TPMG Osteopathic Family Medicine Physician, Matthew D. Fenlason, DO, “Hypertension is the most common condition treated by primary care physicians and is responsible for the greatest number of chronic prescriptions.”
Blood Pressure Guidelines (American Heart Association)
- Normal Blood Pressure: under 120/<80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury)
- Elevated Blood Pressure: 120-129/<80 mm Hg
- Stage 1 Hypertension: 130-139/80-89
- Stage 2 Hypertension: <140/90
- Hypertensive Urgency: >180/>120
- Hypertensive Emergency: >180/>120 with organ failure (kidney, heart, etc.)
A blood pressure reading has two numbers, the top number is called systolic and the lower number is called diastolic. It’s important to note that both numbers do not need to be up in order to be considered high blood pressure, only one of them. Systolic blood pressure is the maximum pressure noted when the heart is contracting. Diastolic pressure is the pressure noted between heart beats. As stated above, both numbers are important, as a systolic 20 mm increase or diastolic 10 mm increase above normal, doubles the risk of heart attack or stroke.
When we think of high blood pressure, we can compare it to the force of a hose. Our blood flows through arteries just like a hose, and has the greatest pressure at our heart, and the lowest pressure in the smaller branches of our arteries. The properties of our arteries are important in maintaining blood flow throughout our body. Narrowing of the arteries increases the pressure due to the constriction and could lead to a stroke or heart attack.
Nearly one third of people are unaware they have high blood pressure because the condition is often asymptomatic. Some people may experience headaches, shortness of breath, pounding in the ears, or floaters in vision. There’s not one specific ideology that contributes to high blood pressure, but several risk factors may play an important role in the development of this condition. This includes a high sodium intake, older age, adrenal and thyroid disorders, obstructive sleep apnea, alcohol consumption, obesity, stress, and genetic predisposition. If both parents have high blood pressure, you are twice as likely to develop the condition.
Types of Hypertension
- Primary Hypertension is high blood pressure that does not have any identifiable secondary cause. It often gradually develops in adults.
- Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that is caused by another medical condition. Various conditions or medications can lead to secondary hypertension including obstructive sleep apnea, kidney problems, thyroid issues, decongestants, or females on birth control.
The excessive pressure on your artery walls caused by high blood pressure can impact other organs in your body. If left untreated, complications include heart attack, ischemic (lack of oxygen to the brain) or hemorrhagic (brain bleed) stroke, or kidney failure.
Changing your lifestyle can go a long way in treating hypertension. A few lifestyle changes to improve your condition include losing weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption. Additionally, Dr. Fenlason encourages patients to schedule a yearly physical. The faster a condition is diagnosed, the greater the chance of preventing the disease from worsening.
“I’ve always been a firm believer in wellness promotion and prevention as Ben Franklin famously said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Simple lifestyle changes can make a significant impact in a patient’s condition,” said Dr. Fenlason.
Watch closely for changes in your health. If you have never been diagnosed with high blood pressure and your levels are higher than normal, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
About Dr. Matthew Fenlason
Matthew D. Fenlason, DO, is a board certified family medicine doctor at TPMG – Williamsburg Family Medicine. He is experienced in treating chronic conditions such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and hypertension. As an osteopathic family medicine physician, he takes a comprehensive approach to treatment, looking beyond the patient’s initial symptoms and illness to also factor in the mind, body, and spirit.