High Blood Pressure

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What Does It Mean to Have High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is very common, and yet many people may not even realize they have it. When you visit a Norton Healthcare provider, it’s one of the first things we’ll test, using a blood pressure cuff. These routine tests are important, since there are no symptoms to trigger your awareness that you may have high blood pressure — and it can cause other health issues.

Over time, high blood pressure damages the artery wall, helping cholesterol to build up. This can narrow your arteries and contribute to life-threatening conditions. Left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina and peripheral artery disease.

Your blood pressure is considered normal if your reading is around 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). The measure refers to systolic blood pressure over diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures blood pressure on your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic pressure reflects the reading between beats.

How Do I Know if My Blood Pressure Is High?

If your reading is consistently higher than 130/80 mmHg, your pressure is too high. You are at risk for cardiovascular disease, according to the American College of Cardiology. If you fall into this category, it’s important to seek medical care to manage and lower your blood pressure.

You can have your blood pressure checked during a regular visit with your primary care provider. Public health officials, including the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommend routine blood pressure monitoring should start at age 3.

Doctors recommend blood pressure monitoring in childhood, because earlier treatment of hypertension can reduce the risk of heart disease later in life. Also, children tend to have secondary hypertension — high blood pressure as a symptom of another condition — more often than adults. Routine screening could reveal the underlying cause of high blood pressure before other symptoms arise.

You also can check your blood pressure at home with the right equipment. The American Heart Association offers tips to help you check your blood pressure accurately.

A blood pressure cuff works by compressing the brachial artery in the upper arm. This stops blood flow briefly and provides the blood pressure reading as the air in the cuff is released and blood flow through the artery is restored.

Low blood pressure — below 90/60 mmHg — is generally benign as long as healthy oxygen levels are maintained.

Norton Community Medical Associates primary care offices are located across the Louisville and Southern Indiana area. Your primary care provider can help screen you for high blood pressure and create a personalized, treatment plan for next steps. You may also visit a Norton Prompt Care clinic for screening if you are in need of a same-day appointment.

Who Is at Risk for High Blood Pressure?

About half of the adults in the United States have high blood pressure, but only about 25% of those with the condition have it under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several factors can increase your risks of developing high blood pressure. Some risk factors are out of your control. Others, however, can be addressed through lifestyle changes.

  • Men are more prone to develop high blood pressure before age 55, while women generally get it after 55.
  • If you have parents or siblings with hypertension, you may be at higher risk.
  • Certain ethnic groups, such as African Americans, are at a higher risk.
  • Men are generally more likely to develop high blood pressure than women.
  • If you are pregnant, you should have your blood pressure checked at prenatal visits whether you have a history of hypertension or not. Untreated high blood pressure during pregnancy can risk your health as well as the health of the unborn baby. Preeclampsia can develop during pregnancy, even if your blood pressure had previously been in the standard range.
  • Chronic kidney disease increases risk.

Risk Factors You Can Manage

  • Obesity, which strains the heart, increasing the risk of high blood pressure
  • Inactivity or lack of physical exercise
  • A diet high in salt, saturated fats and cholesterol
  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Drinking alcohol in excess
  • Long-term stress

Your primary care physician team will help assess your overall risks. And since hypertension is usually the result of a combination of factors, your medical provider will discuss changes you can make to reduce your risk or lower your blood pressure.

If you’re tracking your blood pressure readings at home, provide that information to your health care provider.

Several factors can trigger a temporary spike in blood pressure. These include stress and anxiety, physical activity, caffeine, certain medications, dehydration and nicotine. To lower blood pressure, try relaxation techniques, drink water throughout the day, avoid alcohol and limit your caffeine intake.

Secondary hypertension, or high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition, is rare, according to the American Heart Association. Pregnancy, some heart defects, sleep apnea and kidney conditions can lead to increased blood pressure.

Blood Pressure Medication

There are many classes of blood pressure medicine that your provider may prescribe based on your condition and other factors.

  • Diuretics often are used in combination with other medications to reduce the fluid and salt levels in your system.
  • Beta blockers will lower your heart rate to help reduce blood pressure.
  • ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) help your body produce less angiotensin, which narrows arteries. With less angiotensin, your blood vessels open up, reducing blood pressure.
  • ARBs (angiotensin II receptor blockers) block the effects of angiotensin.
  • Calcium channel blockers reduce the amount of calcium in the heart and arteries, opening narrowed blood vessels.
  • Alpha blockers relax vascular muscles.
  • Central alpha-2 receptor agonists reduce adrenaline.
  • Vasodilators can relax blood vessel walls.

Hypertensive Crisis

If your blood pressure readings are suddenly higher than 180/120 mmHg, wait five minutes and then test again. If your reading is still high, seek medical care.

Call 911 if you have any of these signs of hypertensive emergency and your blood pressure is in the crisis range:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain
  • Numbness/weakness
  • Vision changes
  • Difficulty speaking

When blood pressure is in the hypertensive crisis range, it can have severe outcomes:

  • Stroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Heart attack
  • Eye and kidney damage
  • Loss of kidney function
  • A tear in the aorta (aortic dissection)
  • Chest pain (angina)

Norton Now: Care When You Need It

  • Get medical care when and where it works for you.
    • Norton Community Medical Associates primary care is your medical home. More than 35 locations across the Louisville area and Southern Indiana means there’s an office close to home, work or school. Your primary care physician knows you and your health and performs annual checkups to stay ahead of any emerging conditions. Our doctors and nurse practitioners connect you to the full Norton Healthcare system, giving you and your family easy access to the area’s leading specialty physicians.
    • More than 15 Norton Immediate Care Centers offer treatment for minor illnesses and injuries. Reserve your spot in line and we’ll text you when it’s time to check in. All Norton Immediate Care Centers are equipped with X-ray machines.
    • Norton Prompt Care clinics have same-day appointments available when you need care for yourself or your family. All locations offer extended weekday and weekend hours. Many are located within Walgreens stores.
    • Norton eCare allows you to visit with a provider via secure video or by simply answering questions online about your symptoms.
    • Emergency care is available for a very serious illness or injury that puts your life in danger. Get treatment 24/7 at nine locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana, including three locations for kids.
  • Medicaid, Medicare and most major commercial insurance plans are accepted.
  • Get test results, renew prescriptions, communicate with your health care provider, get notified if an earlier appointment becomes available and more with your free Norton MyChart account.

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