The function of the heart is to pump blood through the blood vessels in our bodies. This is vital for carrying oxygen and other nutrients to tissues of our body, and for removing waste.
This pumping action is caused by the contraction and relaxation of heart muscles. The relaxation of the heart muscle is called diastole during which the heart is filled with blood. Subsequent contraction of the heart muscle is called systole. This forces the blood from your heart into the blood vessels for circulation around the body. Hence, the balance between diastole and systole determines the blood pressure of a person.
Actually, blood pressure (BP) refers to the pressure that is created in the arteries by blood due to contraction and relaxation of the heart.
When your heart pumps blood into arteries, it thrusts the blood along under a head of pressure. Blood pressure is measured as a way of quantifying the force being applied by this moving blood against the walls of arteries.
As the heart beats, the blood flow through the arteries is not steady, but pulsatile. Moreover, the flow of blood, and the pressure it applies to vary from moment to moment.
Therefore, the measurement of blood pressure is noted as 2 different numbers — the systolic and the diastolic blood pressure. These numbers show different aspects of the pressure being exerted by blood as it moves through your arteries.
Both the systolic and diastolic pressures are significant. If the blood pressure readings are too high, hypertension may be present. In case of too low readings, there may be inadequate blood flow to critical organs, like the brain.
Ranges of blood pressure
Blood pressure may be normal, low, or high. High blood pressure is also called as hypertension and low blood pressure as hypotension. The American Heart Association defines the different ranges of blood pressure for adults as follows;
- Normal blood pressure: 80 diastolic and less than 120 systolic
- Elevated blood pressure: less than 80 diastolic and 120–129 systolic
- Stage 1 hypertension: 80–89 diastolic or 130–139 systolic
- Stage 2 hypertension: at least 90 diastolic or at least 140 systolic
- Hypertensive crisis: higher than 120 diastolic and/or higher than 180 systolic
- Hypotension: it can be 60 or less diastolic, or, 90 or less systolic. But these numbers can differ as symptoms determine when blood pressure is too low
Your doctor may identify high blood pressure if either your systolic or diastolic blood pressure is high, or if both are high. Whereas low blood pressure can be recognized by checking systolic and diastolic numbers, along with assessing your age and symptoms, and medications you are taking.
Risk factors associated with high and low blood pressure
Both high and low blood pressure must be managed. Generally, it’s more common to have high blood pressure. Nearly half of the adults in the U.S now fit the new description of high blood pressure, according to the American College of Cardiology. Not amazingly, the risk factors associated with these two conditions are not similar.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Gender affects your risk of high blood pressure. The American Heart Association describes that typically men are at a higher risk of high blood pressure than women are until age 64. But women are at higher risk than men at 65 years and older. Furthermore, your risk is also higher if;
- if you have a close relation with high blood pressure
- in case you are African-American
- you are overweight or obese
- you have diabetes or high cholesterol
- if you have kidney disease
Moreover, your lifestyle also affects your risk level. Thus, making your risk is higher if;
- if you don’t get much physical activity
- you experience chronic stress
- you smoke or drink too much alcohol
- if your diet is high in salt, sugar, and fat
Sleep apnea is also a risk factor for high blood pressure which is often ignored. It is a condition which causes you to stop breathing or have vain breathing one or more times during sleep.
In case of inadequate breathing, your oxygen levels decrease causing the constriction of your blood vessels. Hence, this increases your blood pressure.
When this condition is persistent, increased blood pressure may last during the day when breathing is normal. Right treatment of sleep apnea will help lower your blood pressure.
Risk factors for low blood pressure
People who are older than 65 may be at risk of orthostatic hypotension. It is a condition in which blood pressure drops when you move from sitting to standing state.
Endocrine problems, heart problems, neurological ailments, heart failure, and anemia may also cause this condition. You may also be at risk if you become dehydrated or take certain prescription medications like;
- medications for high blood pressure
- anxiety or depression medications
- erectile dysfunction medications
Moreover, low blood pressure can also be caused by several problems of heart, hormonal, or nervous system. These problems comprise;
- thyroid problems
- abnormal heart rhythms
- abnormal heart valves
- postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- spinal cord injury
- multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Parkinson’s disease
Treating high or low blood pressure
High or low blood pressure is manageable for many people. Several treatments are available which are as follows;
Treating high blood pressure
The first step which is recommended in treating any stage of high blood pressure is lifestyle changes. These changes may consist of;
- eliminating unhealthy foods from your diet like saturated fats and excess sugars
- consuming more heart-healthy foods like lean meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables
- cutting back on sodium in the diet and drinking more water
- getting daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight
- quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption
- managing stress and monitoring blood pressure regularly
Moreover, consider whether you are taking medicines which could be increasing blood pressure, like diet pills, cold medicines, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications. In this regard, your doctor might recommend changing or stopping medications.
Though, lifestyle changes and medication adjustments may not be sufficient to bring your blood pressure numbers normal. If this’s the case, or if you have experienced a hypertensive crisis, your doctor will prescribe you one or more blood pressure medications.
Treating low blood pressure
Low blood pressure treatment depends on its cause. If a medicine is causing it, a doctor may change that drug dosage or stop your treatment with it.
In case your low blood pressure is caused by an infection, it might be treated by an antibiotic. However, a doctor may prescribe iron or vitamin B-12 as a supplement if it is caused by anemia.
Hence, it is important for your doctor to identify the specific cause. Proper problem management can help normalize your blood pressure.
The final word
For high blood pressure, your outlook is best if you take lifestyle steps. As these steps support general heart health. Moreover, always follow recommendations of your doctor about medications to manage your blood pressure. But for low blood pressure, firstly it is important to identify its actual cause and then follow through with any suggested treatment plans.
As high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms, once you have been diagnosed, it’s critical to regularly measure your blood pressure.
This is important even if you are taking blood pressure medicine. And whether you have got high or low blood pressure, chasing your systolic and diastolic numbers is a way to gauge how well medications or lifestyle changes are working.