What Is High Blood Pressure?


High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a common and dangerous condition wherein the blood flows through the arteries at a pressure that’s consistently higher than normal. In November 2017 the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute published updated guidelines for blood pressure, redefining “high” blood pressure, eliminating the singular term “hypertension” and redefining blood pressure as various stages, including normal, elevated and stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension.

A fifth stage, “hypertension crisis,” was also added. But what exactly do these numbers mean? To give you a background, blood pressure is measured by systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure refers to the pressure on the arteries as the heart pumps out blood, whereas diastolic pressure refers to the pressure while the heart is resting in between beats. The actual measurement is recorded by two numbers separated by a slash (/).

An increase in any of these numbers may be used to make a diagnosis of high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. Normal blood pressure is considered to be less than 120/80. Elevated blood pressure is 120-129/less than 80. The first stage of hypertension begins when the systolic pressure ranges from 130 to 139 mmHg and the diastolic pressure is between 80 to 89 mmHg.

High Blood Pressure Is Divided Into Two Categories

According to some studies, 95 percent of hypertension cases have no established cause but, rather, are a combination of risk factors such as genetics, race, weight and obesity — this condition is categorized as essential or primary high blood pressure. Other risk factors that may trigger hypertension include such things as excessive sodium intake, smoking, alcohol use and insulin resistance, just to name a few.

The secondary cause of hypertension applies to the remaining 5 percent of hypertensive individuals. For these cases, the direct cause of high blood pressure can be easily identified. Some of the most common secondary causes of hypertension include narrowing of the aorta, use of certain drugs, chronic kidney disease, sleep apnea and thyroid disease, among others.

The Prevalence of High Blood Pressure

A 2017 study published in The Lancet journal, which analyzed data from 1,479 studies with 19.1 million participants, shows that the prevalence of high blood pressure has doubled in the past four decades, rising from 594 million in 1975 to 1.13 billion in 2015. Statistics also show that high blood pressure is no longer a disease that’s prevalent in high-income countries, as more and more people in low-income areas also developing this condition.

Moreover, in America alone, 103 million people — half of all U.S. adults — are now living with hypertension. That number has increased from one-third just since 2016. One in 5 adults is also unaware that they have high blood pressure, which prevents them from getting appropriate medical care.

Moreover, high blood pressure has become the second leading cause of disability worldwide, and is the main risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the world’s leading cause of death. In fact, it accounted for more than 410,000 deaths in America in 2014.Advertisement

High Blood Pressure May Affect Children, Too

Even though high blood pressure is usually associated with older people, it may affect children of all ages too. This condition is also known as pediatric hypertension, and it’s usually caused by an underlying medical condition, especially in children younger than 10 years old.

Family history and lifestyle habits, especially those that lead to obesity, may also contribute to the development of high blood pressure in children.

It’s trickier to interpret the blood pressure readings of children compared to adults, since a physician must determine the normal blood pressure level of a child based on their gender, age and height. If you think your child is at a higher risk of developing this condition, monitor their blood pressure levels regularly and schedule regular appointments with a physician to keep your child’s health in check.