High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition where the arteries have an increased resistance against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood. Usually high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. However, you can know if your blood pressure is high by having it checked regularly by your healthcare provider.
Is My Blood Pressure Normal?
New risk guidelines for high blood pressure: Hypertension is now defined as 130/80 or higher, whereas the previous definition was 140/90 or higher. Read more
Listen to a podcast of two Inova doctors discussing blood pressure risk factor
How to Test or Measure Your Blood Pressure
Your doctor should check your blood pressure at the beginning of every appointment. To take your blood pressure at home you'll need a blood pressure cuff, monitor, and log book. You can also check your blood pressure at machines located at a grocery store, pharmacy or fitness center.
What do the blood pressure numbers mean?
Pressure is created inside the arteries each time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes). The pressure is greatest when blood pumps out of the heart into the arteries or systole. The pressure falls in the arteries or diastole when the heart relaxes between beats and blood is not moving out of the heart. Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure:
Top number (systolic pressure)
"Systolic pressure" refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body.
Bottom number (diastolic pressure)
"Diastolic pressure" refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood.
Before electronic/digital blood pressure machines were invented, the blood pressure reading was always done using a traditional mercury filled blood pressure reader like the one still used in many medical facilities. These traditional blood pressure readers have an indicator column filled with mercury. That is why the systolic and diastolic pressures are still recorded as "mm Hg" (millimeters of mercury). This recording represents how high the mercury column is raised by the pressure of the blood.
Effects of High Blood Pressure
Early diagnosis and treatment of hypertension is critical because of its many associated risks. High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, renal insufficiency and is a leading cause of death. Additionally, approximately five percent of people with hypertension suffer from renal or renovascular hypertension, caused by narrowing or blockage in the arteries to the kidneys.