Having your blood pressure measured is quick and painless. A nurse secures a rubber cuff around your upper arm and inflates it, temporarily stopping the blood flow in your main artery. The air in the cuff is then released, resulting in the blood pulsing back through the artery. The nurse listens with a stethoscope until the pressure in the artery exceeds the pressure in the blood pressure cuff.

Blood pressure tests are a routine part of visits to the doctor. However, if your primary care doctor or cardiologist suspects you might be suffering from high (hypertension) or low (hypotension) blood pressure, you may need to have a blood pressure test done more frequently. Inexpensive, at-home, digital blood pressure test kits are available at many local stores and can help you keep track of your blood pressure readings on a daily basis. Heart and vascular specialists at Ohio State can help you monitor and manage your blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure

As your heart pumps blood through your body, blood pushes against your arteries’ walls, creating a force known as blood pressure. Blood pressure measurements include both systolic and diastolic pressures. 

Systolic pressure measures your blood pressure when your heart is beating and pumping blood. Diastolic pressure measures blood pressure while your heart is at rest, between beats. Systolic pressure is measured or read first, followed by the diastolic reading. For example, in a blood pressure reading of 120/80, the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80. 

Blood pressure is measured as follows:

  • 119/79 or lower is considered normal blood pressure.
  • 130/80 or higher is considered high blood pressure. 
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure is 130 – 139/80 – 89.
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure is 140 or higher/90 or higher.
  • A systolic reading between 120 and 129 or a diastolic reading of less than 80 is considered “elevated,” or sometimes called “prehypertension.” Prehypertension can lead to high blood pressure if left untreated.

What is high blood pressure? 

High blood pressure is a serious condition affecting one in three adults in the United States. If left untreated, it can ultimately lead to other health conditions, including heart failure, stroke and kidney failure.

Blood pressure numbers fluctuate depending on your level of activity. It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise when you wake up from sleeping, or when you’re active, excited or nervous. However, if your blood pressure readings are consistently high, more serious health issues can occur. Work with your doctor to establish healthy lifestyle changes and to discuss medications that can help control blood pressure.

What causes high blood pressure?

Blood pressure often rises as you age. Other factors that could contribute to an increase in blood pressure include:

  • Alcohol intake
  • Certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications, including cough and cold, headache and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Certain prescription medications, such as corticosteroids, asthma medicines and hormone therapy
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Dehydration
  • Inaccurate readings due to tight clothing or cuffs that are too small for your arm
  • Increased salt intake
  • Sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea
  • Pain
  • Physical activity and exercise
  • Position or posture change
  • Recent food consumption
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Talking or activity during test
  • Temperature changes
  • Tobacco use
  • Thyroid disease

High blood pressure symptoms

Because there are usually no symptoms of high blood pressure, it can go undetected for years. You may experience headaches, although these are uncommon. In order to prevent long-term damage to your blood vessels, heart and other important organs, work with your Ohio State heart and vascular doctor to lower your blood pressure or prevent high blood pressure.

Knowing your baseline blood pressure numbers can help your doctor maintain these levels or lower your blood pressure as needed.  

Long-term effects of high blood pressure can cause:

  • Aneurysms
  • An enlarged or weak heart, which could potentially lead to heart failure
  • Bursting or bleeding of blood vessels in eyes
  • Narrowing of blood vessels in the kidneys
  • Narrowing of arteries, reducing blood flow

Diagnosis of high blood pressure

Doctors use blood pressure tests to diagnose high blood pressure. Often, doctors perform several tests to confirm the results. We perform this easy and painless test in a clinic or physician’s office. To measure blood pressure, a nurse places a blood pressure cuff on your arm and uses a gauge and stethoscope to read your blood pressure.

A doctor will diagnose high blood pressure if your numbers are 130/80 mmHg or higher. Certain activities and substances can cause your blood pressure to rise. In order to get an accurate reading, follow these guidelines before going in for your test:

  • Don’t drink coffee.
  • Don’t smoke cigarettes.
  • Sit and relax for five minutes.
  • Use the bathroom to empty your bladder.

What to expect during a blood pressure test

Preparing for your procedure

Blood pressure tests are part of routine doctor visits, so no special preparations are necessary. However, make sure to bring a list of your medications to your appointment—some medications can negatively affect your blood pressure, including over-the-counter medications or herbal supplements. 

During your procedure

Blood pressure tests are painless and last about a minute. Stay seated with both feet on the floor and breathe normally. Most importantly, remember to relax—anxiety can cause your blood pressure reading to be higher than normal.

After your procedure

The nurse will give you the blood pressure reading immediately, and it will be noted in your chart for the physician to review. If your blood pressure was too high or too low, your physician might suggest monitoring it more frequently to assess if there is a problem. If your doctor determines that your blood pressure warrants attention, he or she will create a treatment plan that’s specifically tailored to your health needs.

High blood pressure treatment

Most people with high blood pressure continue treatments throughout their lives. Usually, doctors recommend a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to lower high blood pressure. Blood pressure medicines work by removing extra salt and fluid from your body, slowing your heartbeat or widening blood vessels.

In addition to medication, you may be able to lower and control your high blood pressure through lifestyle changes, including:

  • Exercise
    • Regular physical activity helps lower high blood pressure. Make sure to talk with your doctor to discuss how often and rigorous your exercise should be.
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Eat healthy
    • A healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains can help lower your blood pressure. Reduce the amount of salt that you eat by limiting your intake to no more than 1 teaspoon per day. Reduce alcoholic beverages also contributes to high blood pressure.
  • Reach or maintain a healthy weight
  • Manage stress
    • Relaxation or physical activity often helps people reduce their stress levels.

Why choose Ohio State for high blood pressure treatment?

Cardiologists at Ohio State’s Heart and Vascular Center are experts in the management of high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your cardiologist will guide you through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, that can help you lower your blood pressure. Your cardiologist may also prescribe daily medication and perform routine blood pressure checks. Should you need further care, an entire network of heart and vascular specialists are available at Ohio State here in Columbus to treat any condition.

Other tools are offered at Ohio State that can help you manage your blood pressure.

If you’re currently a smoker, the Ohio State Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital Smoking Cessation Clinic can help you quit. The program, which is covered by most insurance plans, provides each participant:

  • Initial individual assessments with a pharmacist that include behavioral counseling and pharmacologic treatment as well as assessments for blood pressure, heart rate, weight, medications, past health history and immunizations
  • Follow-up visits whenever a patient wishes to review progress, strategies and medications, and make adjustments as needed

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