Is Your Blood Pressure Too High?

Blood pressure is a common vital taken at a doctor’s visit. But, what do those numbers really mean?

Miranda Sirvinskas, Nurse Practitioner at Riverside Medical Group’s Internal Medicine Bourbonnais office, offers important information about blood pressure—including healthy versus non-healthy levels and what might be behind a high blood pressure diagnosis.

Understanding Blood Pressure Levels

Blood pressure is the measurement of the blood that pushes against the arterial walls as the heart pumps blood throughout the body. Systolic blood pressure is the top number, which is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts or beats, and diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number—reflecting pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest. Sirvinskas explains that blood pressure is put into three categories: low, normal, and high.

  • Low blood pressure is considered any number less than 90 over 60. This is a cause for concern if it’s associated with symptoms such as confusion, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, or blurred vision.
  • Normal blood pressure is anything less than 120 over 80.
  • Elevated (high) blood pressure is anywhere between 120 to 129 or over and higher than 80.

“A hypertensive crisis, which you don’t want, is anything over 180 over 120. This definitely warrants an emergency room visit, or at the very least an urgent call to your primary care provider,” notes Sirvinskas.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Common risk factors for high blood pressure include advancing age, obesity, family history, race (African American patients individuals possess a high risk factor), a high sodium diet, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and insufficient sleep.

There are also several prescription and over-the-counter medications that can cause high blood pressure, including but not limited to birth control pills, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen, antidepressants, steroids, nasal decongestants, weight loss medications, and antacids that contain sodium.

“High blood pressure can be a little scary because some people don’t have any symptoms at all when their blood pressure is elevated, which is why they call it the ‘silent killer.’ Those who do have symptoms of high blood pressure might experience a headache, vision changes, chest pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, confusion, and anxiety,” shares Sirvinskas.

Typically, these symptoms occur when blood pressure is near the hypertensive crisis range, but some people will experience them in the hypertension one or hypertension two stage as well—depending on how sensitive they are.

Treatment Options

In some cases, individuals are able to control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes such as weight loss through diet and exercise. “You may have heard of the DASH diet before, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” says Sirvinskas. “This is a dietary pattern that includes reducing sodium, eating more fruits and vegetables, increasing potassium intake, choosing low fat options, cutting down on sugars, and eating whole grains and lean proteins such as fish and chicken. All are good options to help reduce and manage high blood pressure.”

It’s also helpful to avoid energy drinks with sugar and caffeine, as well as excess alcohol. Quitting smoking can be very influential in promoting healthy blood pressure. And, managing one’s stress is also helpful. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough to make a significant difference, physicians may suggest medications.

Regardless of the approach, it’s imperative to get one’s blood pressure under control. Serious complications of uncontrolled hypertension include left ventricular hypertrophy, which is an enlarged heart, heart failure, ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, ischemic heart disease, heart attacks, vision problems, and kidney disease that can lead to dialysis.

“It’s crucial to manage your blood pressure effectively and ensure adherence to your blood pressure medications and lifestyle modifications to reduce the risks of complications, as these complications can be irreversible,” warns Sirvinskas.

“If you think that you have high blood pressure, I encourage you to reach out to your primary care provider or seek one,” she continues. “It’s important to stay up to date with your annual checkups and follow-up visits, to monitor those health issues including blood pressure, and never run out of your medications. Always ask for refills before you run out to avoid going into that hypertensive crisis level.”

To learn more about primary care at Riverside or to schedule your appointment click here.