Symptoms of high or elevated blood pressure

man and nurse monitoring blood pressure

You can’t see high blood pressure and most of the time you can’t feel it. High blood pressure is commonly referred to as the ‘silent killer’ because it very rarely has symptoms. Every day thousands of people are diagnosed with high blood pressure and thousands more are walking around without ever knowing they have it.

The importance of knowing your blood pressure cannot be understated. Sufferers of high blood pressure are at an increased risk of having a stroke, heart failure, vision loss, kidney problems, circulation problems and erectile dysfunction in men [1]. Staying on top of your blood pressure may help prevent many of these problems or at least reduce your chances of having them.

A sad fact is that without regular checkups, the first time many people find out they have high blood pressure is after suffering a stroke or heart attack. Don’t fall into this category.

 

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How can I know if I have high or elevated blood pressure?

High blood pressure is usually symptomless so the best way to know if you have high blood pressure is by visiting your doctor. He or she can measure your blood pressure and keep an eye on it during routine visits.

Your blood pressure changes as you grow older and the chance of having high blood pressure increases with age. Your blood pressure is also constantly varying from day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute. Things like your activity level, stress, anxiety and illness all play a role in regulating your blood pressure. Your doctor will only diagnose high blood pressure after they have measured it on 3 separate occasions (or they may recommend a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring test). This will give them a more accurate picture of what your blood pressure is really doing.

 

What do all the numbers mean?

Blood pressure is represented as a fraction with one number written on top of another number. The number on the top is referred to as the systolic blood pressure and the number on the bottom is the diastolic blood pressure. In medical terms, both numbers refer to slightly different things:

Systolic blood pressure – Represents the amount of pressure that your blood exerts on the blood vessels when your heart is beating. A healthy systolic pressure is often identified as 120. The closer you are to this number the better.

Diastolic blood pressure –This is the amount of pressure put on all the arteries in the body in between heart beats (when the heart is relaxed). A healthy diastolic pressure is around 80.

It is important to know that what’s referred to as a “healthy” or “normal” blood pressure depends on external factors such as age, genes, gender and ethnicity. Additional factors including a person’s diet, weight and their overall health situation are also considered. Therefore there isn’t a single perfect answer when talking about a healthy blood pressure. However, a systolic and diastolic blood pressure close to the values stated here serves as guidance for what can be considered a healthy blood pressure.

For medical purposes, more attention is given to the systolic (top) number because the higher it is the higher the chances of heart disease. However, the bottom number is also important and a high diastolic reading is something the doctor might be concerned about.

We do not distinguish solely between normal (healthy) and high blood pressure. The truth is there are several categories which refer to different levels between these two. The following chart summarizes these categories with the associated blood pressure values.

 

Blood pressure category Systolic (top) value Diastolic (bottom) value
Low blood pressure Below 90 Below 60
Normal/healthy blood pressure Below 120 Below 80
Prehypertension Between 120 – 139 Between 80 – 89
Stage 1 hypertension Between 140 – 159 Between 90 – 99
Stage 2 hypertension 160+ 100+

 

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?

Most people with high blood pressure will never have any symptoms and may not be aware they even have it. That is why regular checkups with you doctor are important. The exception is extremely high blood pressures that can result in things like:

  • Severe and sudden headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden vision problems
  • Irregular heartbeat

If you notice any of these symptoms then seek medical attention immediately. One or more of these symptoms may be present in the severe or life-threatening stage of high blood pressure.

For the vast majority of people who will not have any symptoms of high blood pressure, visiting your doctor for monthly checkups is the best way to catch any potential problems before they start. If you haven’t been to your doctor recently then make an appointment to see them soon. The earlier high blood pressure is caught the easier it is to treat and the less ability it will have to cause other medical problems.

 

References

1)  Johns Hopkins Medicine. Healthy aging

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/diseases_and_conditions/hypertension-what-you-need-to-know-as-you-age

2) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/blood-pressure/art-20050982