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Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings, Symptoms and Causes

                             

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is referred to as the “silent killer” in colloquial terms, as it can often display no symptoms while still being a major risk factor for stroke and heart disease. In fact, most people have no blood pressure symptoms, even if their readings are extremely high. Some people with hypertension may experience symptoms such as nosebleeds, headaches, or shortness of breath, however these signs aren’t specific to blood pressure, and may not even happen until the condition has reached a potentially fatal stage.

It is estimated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that more than 50% of all people after age 55 will develop hypertension. This is a staggeringly high number and quite dangerous as heart attack and stroke are of the leading reasons for death and disability burden across the world. Therefore, it is very valuable to ensure you are having your blood pressure checked regularly for any abnormalities. Furthermore, even if your reading is currently showing as healthy, it is important to take all possible precautions to have that remain in the normal range. Let’s go through some FAQS about blood pressure together.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is clinically measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and involves two different measurements.

  1. Systolic blood pressure: the top number in the blood pressure reading refers to the magnitude of the force when the heart pushes blood to circulate in the rest of the body
  2. Diastolic blood pressure: The bottom number is the force of blood vessels pressure between heartbeats, as the organ enlarges and restricts alternately

Therefore, the definition of blood pressure has to do with the quantity of blood that the heart is pumping and how much the arteries resist this flow. Blood pressure rises directly as arteries become narrow.

Blood Pressure vs. Heart Rate

This is very different from heart rate which measures the number of times your heart beats per minute. This measurement can be used to determine aspects of cardiovascular health; however, it is not part of our discussion on blood pressure.

What is normal blood pressure?

Normal, healthy blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mm Hg, and blood pressure at or above 130/80 mm Hg is seen as high. However, average blood pressure readings do vary by age. Listed below are normal ranges for each age group in a blood pressure chart.

Age

Diastolic Range

Systolic Range

Newborn – 6 months

30 - 65

45 - 90

6 months – 2 years

40 - 70

80 – 100

Children, 2 – 13 years

40 - 80

80 – 120

Adolescent, 14 – 18 years

50 - 80

90 - 120

Adult, 19 – 40 years

60 - 80

95–135

Adult, 41 – 60 years

70 - 90

110–145

Older adult, 61+ years

70 - 90

95–145

 

A blood pressure reading between 120/80 mm Hg and 130/80 mm Hg is indicative that the individual is at risk developing hypertension and they are categorized as ‘elevated blood pressure.’ Fortunately, falling within this elevated risk range means it is still possible to reduce your numbers without taking medication. The key to this is behavior and lifestyle modifications. Let’s take a look at some examples.

  1. Increase physical activity

A multitude of studies have shown that exercising reduces blood pressure in both men and women at magnitudes similar to certain blood pressure medications. This is because physical activity increases heart and breathing rates regularly over time which strengthens the heart muscles and allows it to pump blood with less effort. This puts less strain on arteries and therefore reduces blood pressure. Moderate to vigorous intensity exercise, 3-4 times a week for 40 minute intervals is recommended by many studies, and these activities  can be as simple as opting for stairs, walking to destinations, and going for a bike ride. Exercise can be done through many different methods, so it is highly recommended to find

  1. Lose weight (if overweight)

If an individual is already overweight, much evidence points to the notion that shedding an additional 5-10 pounds can help reduce blood pressure readings by 4.5 mm Hg systolic and 3.2 mm Hg diastolic on average. Losing excess weight is also beneficial in preventing other potential health issues such as diabetes.

  1. Eat less sodium and more potassium

Reducing salt intake is widely known as an effective way of reducing blood pressure. This can be done by replacing high sodium foods with low fat dairy, beans, fish, fruits and veggies, whole grains, etc.

Additionally, potassium is an extremely beneficial mineral to reduce blood pressure. A high potassium intake can lower the impact of the salt you are consuming on your bodily system, and can ease any strain constricting in your blood vessels. Examples of potassium rich foods include fish, bananas, avocados, potatoes, spinach, and low fat milk and yogurt.

  1. Eat less processed food

Consuming lower quantities of processed food as well as meals from restaurants is an effective way to reduce salt consumption. Eating food that you make yourself at home is the only way to guarantee the amount of salt included. Furthermore, you won’t need to add any excess salt as a preservative which is commonly used in processed foods.

Additionally, look out for processed foods that are labeled as “low fat”, as these are then usually higher in salt and sugar to accommodate for the lack of taste and flavor from the missing fat content. As a general rule of thumb, always remember to look at nutrition labels to see which mineral or element is being overused in place of another.

Reducing or eliminating processed and restaurant food in your diet will lower your consumption of salt, sugar, and refined carbs, all of which work to reduce blood pressure.

  1. Reduce consumption of refined carbs and sugars

In certain studies, sugar has been shown to raise blood pressure more than salt. One trial showed a rise of 6.9 mm Hg systolic and 5.6 mm Hg diastolic due to sugar. Furthermore, studies also show that low refined carbohydrate diets reduce blood pressure readings by 3 mm Hg systolic and 5 mm Hg diastolic. In addition to lowering blood pressure, reducing consumption of sugars and refined carbs can also help reduce weight, which in turn, helps reduce blood pressure.

  1. Quit smoking

This can be difficult for many people facing addictions, however, quitting smoking is not only beneficial for blood pressure, but it improves overall health and wellness. Temporarily, smoking causes an immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure. However, overtime the chemicals contained in tobacco and cigarettes increase blood pressure by narrowing and hardening arteries, causing inflammation, and damaging blood vessel walls. These changes can also be made to an individual's blood vessels and arteries through exposure to secondhand smoke.   

  1. Reduce stress

Our day to day lives in modern day societies can be stressful and anxiety-inducing due to many factors outside of our individual control. Many people wonder does anxiety increase blood pressure? The answer is yes it does, as emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear, pain, and anger stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which increases blood pressure. This makes it even more necessary for us to find ways to keep excess stress and anxiety at bay, to maintain normal blood pressure and increase overall health and wellbeing. There are many ways to do this, so it’s important to find an activity that you personally enjoy and can keep up consistently. Popular examples include physical activity, going out in

  1. Get enough and restful sleep

Blood pressure reduces during sleep, and therefore, failing to get enough and restful sleep affects blood pressure readings and can cause problems in maintaining a normal level.

Studies show that getting less than 5 hours of sleep a night on a regular basis is associated with a significantly raised risk of high blood pressure in the long term.

 

To conclude, hypertension is considered a silent killer due to its ability to be present in an individual without presenting any symptoms. The only way to discover if your levels are within normal range is to have a blood pressure reading conducted. Additionally, even if blood pressure was shown to be normal in recent times, it’s still necessary to take precautionary measures like getting enough exercise, eating nutritiously, etc.,to ensure it stays within that range.

Here's a quick recap on what we’ve learned:

 FAQs about Blood Pressure:

What is normal blood pressure?

Normal, healthy blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 mm Hg.

What is average blood pressure by age?

Newborn – 6 months, diastolic: 30-65, systolic: 45-90

6 months – 2 years, diastolic: 40-70, systolic 80-100

2 – 13 years, diastolic: 40-80, systolic: 80-120

14 – 18 years, diastolic: 50-80, systolic: 90-120

19 – 40 years, diastolic: 60-80, systolic: 95-135

41 – 60 years, diastolic: 70-90, systolic: 110-145

61+ years, diastolic: 70-90, systolic: 95-145

Does anxiety increase blood pressure?

Yes, it can! Emotions such as anxiety, stress, fear, pain, and anger stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which increases blood pressure.

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