What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure or force of blood inside your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps blood into arteries that carry blood throughout your body. This happens 60 to 100 times a minute, 24 hours a day. Arteries deliver oxygen and nutrients to your whole body so it can function.
Blood pressure vs. heart rate
Both of these have to do with your heart, but they’re two different things. Blood pressure is how powerfully your blood travels through your blood vessels. Heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute.
An increase in heart rate doesn’t mean your blood pressure is going up, too. The only way to know your blood pressure is to measure it with a blood pressure cuff and gauge.
Why blood pressure fluctuates
Your blood pressure doesn’t stay the same at all times. It changes based on what you’re doing. When you’re exercising or excited, your blood pressure goes up. When you’re resting, your blood pressure is lower.
Your blood pressure can also change because of your:
- Medications you take.
- Changes in position.
Why blood pressure matters
High blood pressure — the “silent killer” — usually has no symptoms. It can damage your heart, kidneys and brain before you know anything is wrong.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Without treatment, high blood pressure can cause:
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA).
- Heart attack.
- Enlarged heart.
- Heart failure.
- Peripheral artery disease.
- Kidney disease.
- Broken blood vessels in your eyes.
Who is at risk of getting high blood pressure?
Your risk of high blood pressure is higher if you:
- Have a family history of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
- Are Black.
- Are age 60 or older.
- Have high cholesterol.
- Use oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
- Have obesity.
- Have diabetes.
- Use tobacco products.
- Don’t exercise.
- Have eat a high salt diet.
When is blood pressure checked?
Your healthcare provider should check your blood pressure at every annual checkup if your blood pressure is normal. If your blood pressure readings are high at your appointments, your provider may ask you to check your blood pressure at home anywhere from several times a day to once a week.
You should take blood pressure readings at the same time of day each time. You can take two or three readings one after the other, as long as you wait one minute before the next one. When you’re done, figure out the average of the two or three readings you took.
Your provider may ask you to wear a blood pressure monitor for 24 hours. The monitor is usually set to take blood pressure every 15 to 30 minutes while you do your normal activities.
What treatments are available for patients with high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Without treatment, you can have a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, heart attack, enlarged heart, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease (such as poor circulation and pain in your legs), aneurysms, kidney disease, and broken blood vessels in your eyes. Treatment includes making changes recommended by your healthcare provider.
Diet and lifestyle changes:
- Reach and stay at your ideal body weight
- Get regular exercise
- Eat a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet that is low in salt, fat and cholesterol, and contains lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Your diet is an important part of managing your blood pressure. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan and limiting sodium (salt) help manage blood pressure. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian for a more personalized eating plan.
- Having no more than two drinks containing alcohol per day (for most men) and no more than one drink per day for women and lighter-weight men. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
- Manage stress and anger.
- Avoid all tobacco and nicotine products.
- Other lifestyle changes, such as managing lipid levels (LDL, cholesterol, triglycerides) and managing other health conditions, such as diabetes.
Medications and follow-up care:
- Take all medications as prescribed. Do not stop or start taking any medication without talking to your doctor. Blood pressure medication does not keep working after you stop taking it.
- Some over-the-counter medications, such as decongestants, can change the way your blood pressure medication works.
- Keep all follow-up appointments so your doctor can monitor your blood pressure, make any needed changes to your medications and help manage your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Your doctor may ask you to record your blood pressure at home. Follow your doctor’s instructions for recording your blood pressure.