Baton Rouge Clinic Health Library
Understanding High Blood Pressure
Published: 12, 2006
Hypertension, or HTN, is the technical term for high blood pressure. HTN is called the silent killer due to its lack of early symptoms. Uncontrolled HTN, however, is associated with heart and kidney disease as well as stroke. About 65 million people in the United States have HTN, which is nearly one in every three adults. Of those people, only 30 percent are aware they have HTN and only 60 percent receive treatment for it. Hopefully, the following tutorial will help you determine if you are at risk of having HTN and prompt you to consult your doctor.
What do the numbers mean?
When you get your blood pressure taken the results of the test are two numbers, a top number and a bottom number. The top number represents systolic pressure, which is the pressure of your blood vessels when your heart muscle contracts. The bottom number represents diastolic pressure, which is the pressure of your blood vessels when the heart muscle relaxes. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Prehypertension is 120-139 / 80-89. Lifestyle modifications are commonly recommended at this stage. Stage 1 HTN is 140-159 / 90-99. Anti-hypertensive drugs are usually introduced here. Stage 2 HTN is greater than or equal to 160/100. This severe stage of HTN is commonly treated with multiple medications.
Who is at risk of developing hypertension?
Certain races such as African-Americans and Native-Americans are at higher risk. Overweight children and adults are at higher risk. And, having a family history of HTN, lack of exercise, and smoking can increase your risk of HTN. Consuming too much alcohol or a high sodium diet with fast food or processed food can increase a person’s risk of developing HTN as well.
What can be done to treat HTN?
Maintaining a proper weight is very important in helping to manage HTN. An appropriate diet with regular exercise can help to maintain an ideal weight. Low sodium and low fat food choices should be utilized and least half an hour of exercise four or more days of the week can help with blood pressure management. Avoiding smoking also is very important as tobacco can increase your heart rate and can harden and constrict blood vessels, which increases blood pressure. Alcohol should be kept to two drinks a day or less and one or fewer for women. Decreasing stress with methods such as yoga and meditation can help with blood pressure management. Most importantly, patients need to have regular visits with their doctor for blood pressure measurements. Drugs are commonly needed to help get high blood pressure down.
Will I have to take pills for the rest of my life?
The answer is yes for most people. A few people are lucky enough to manage their blood pressure without drugs. However, most people need to continue lifestyle modifications and take several drugs to keep HTN controlled. Medications can sometimes be difficult to take due to side effects, cost, or remembering to take a daily pill. Although this might be difficult, you must remember the potential devastating effects of uncontrolled HTN. Hypertension is a very prevalent illness that needs to be diagnosed early and managed properly to avoid serious complications. Patients have to accept that like diabetes, this disease is one that will never really go away. However, as blood pressure comes down the body should begin to heal to a certain extent. If you are diligent in your detection and management, you can buy yourself many more healthy years.
Adrian P. Landry, MD
Specializing in Internal Medicine
[ View Author Bio ]
The Baton Rouge Clinic, AMC, offers this information as a courtesy service. Please remember that medical knowledge is always evolving and we cannot represent that any of our information is absolutely current. Please consult a physician before taking any medical action based on information gathered from this or any website.