- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Blood Pressure | What Causes High / Low Readings and Spikes
Blood Pressure Basics
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a persistently elevated pressure of blood within and against the wall of the arteries. Your arteries carry blood from the heart through the body. While some people believe that extreme activity or tension can cause hypertension (high blood pressure), this theory is unproven. The Mayo Clinic reports that “stress and long-term high blood pressure may not be linked, but taking steps to reduce your stress can improve your general health, including your blood pressure.”To learn more about the Mayo Clinics information on stress and high blood pressure visit this link.The Mayo Clinic explains that stress can cause blood pressure to spike. The Lancet Journal of Medicine has recently reported that frequent spikes in blood pressure can cause problems in some individuals. For information on reducing stress, visit Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure.
When medical tests reveal an underlying cause for high blood pressure in an individual, the disease is called primary or essential hypertension. If another disease, such as heart disease, causes the high blood pressure, the condition is labeled secondary hypertension. Hypertension has been called the “silent disease” because it often has no obvious symptoms. A person can have high blood pressure for years without having any signs of the disease. When symptoms do occur, they include headache, fatigue, dizziness, flushed face, ringing in the ears, and frequent nose bleeds.
Blood Pressure Ranges
Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The first number is called systolic (sis-TOL-ik) pressure, which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (contracts) while pumping blood. The second number is the diastolic (di-a-STOL-ik) pressures, which measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest between beats and filling with blood. You will typically see blood pressure numbers reported with the systolic pressure above or before the diastolic pressure number.
Blood pressure ranges fall into four basic categories:
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Prehypertension: 120-139/80-89
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159/90-99
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above/100 and above
Why is Lowering High Blood Pressure Important?
When your body’s blood pressure is too high it exerts excessive force on the artery walls, which can damage the arteries themselves. This damage can then extend to the heart, kidneys and brain. Very high blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood through the body. High blood pressure can contribute to hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. In extreme cases, prolonged high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, heart attack, kidney failure or strokes. Contrary to popular believe there is no typical hypertensive person. Some people are more likely to develop high blood pressure if this condition runs in their family. Some life style choices can also increase a person’s chances of developing high blood pressure, including:
- Being overweight
- Having a sedentary life style
- Consuming too much salt
- Drinking alcohol excessively (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
- Experiencing too much stress
- Consuming too much caffeine
New Test for Renin Helps Patients with High Blood Pressure Get the Right Drug
A study released in August 2010, reveals that new hormone test can help match high blood pressure patients with the right drugs. The new test is for the hormone called renin. This is significant as another study shows that only 50% of people suffering with high blood pressure have it under control.
When is Low Blood Pressure a Problem?
In some cases individuals may normally have blood pressure readings below 120/80. Low blood pressure, hypotension, is typically defined as a reading of 90/60 with no symptoms. For healthy individuals, notably athletes, a low blood pressure reading is a sign of a healthy cardiovascular system. For some individuals, consistently low blood pressure with no accompanying symptoms is not a serious health problem.
Low blood pressure is usually only a problem if the individual presents symptoms along with the low numbers. Individuals can experience health problems when blood pressure drops suddenly. When blood pressure drops too quickly, the individual’s brain is denied a sufficient supply of blood, which can cause light headedness, dizziness, or momentary disorientation.
When an individual rises quickly from a lying position, he or she can experience a sudden drop in pressure. Sudden drops in blood pressure most commonly occur in someone who's rising from a prone or sitting position to standing and is called postural hypotension. Some common causes of postural hypotension include dehydration and aging. For some individuals, such as the elderly, a low blood pressure can indicate poor blood flow to vital organs.
If you experience any dizziness or light headedness, you should consult your primary care physician. If you regularly have these symptoms, keep a journal of when the symptoms occurred and share your records with your doctor.
In rare cases, low blood pressure can indicate a serious medical problem.
You can learn more about the problems associated with low blood pressure at these links:
Blood Pressure Measuring Devices
If you are hypertensive or suffer from stage 1 or stage 2 high blood pressure, you should measure your blood pressure regularly.
You should pay particular attention to frequent spikes in blood pressure. In May 2010 in four articles published in Lancet and Lancet Neurology, European researchers indicated that individuals with occasional spikes in their blood pressure could be at higher risk of having a stroke than those with regularly high blood pressure.
Many personal blood pressure devices exist on the market today. According to Consumer Reports the following three monitors are the best on the market.
The A&D Medical LifeSource UA-787EJ is rated the best among eight home blood pressure monitors. This monitor sells for $70 and gets a top rating for its ease of use and consistency. You can purchase it through amazon.com (see side bar).
Omron HEM-790IT is rated best among PC-connected blood pressure monitors. You can connect this monitor to a desktop computer and download your results for further analysis or for sharing with your doctor. If you do not need to download data, you can save some money by purchasing the A&D model described above. The Omron HEM-790IT typically sells for around $75.
The Omron HEM-650 is a wrist-based blood pressure monitor, which received top rating for its class. Some experts believe that the wrist-based monitors are not as accurate as upper-arm monitors. Users, however, often find the wrist monitors easier to use. As an added bonus this monitor is less expensive with a typical price of $60.
Blood pressure checklist