Did you know that around 1 out of every 3 adults in America has high blood pressure?1 Blood pressure is simply the pressure exerted by your blood as it pushes against the walls of your arteries. If you have high blood pressure or hypertension, this pressure is higher than it should be.
What Is High Blood Pressure?
A common medical condition, high blood pressure or hypertension occurs when the force with which blood pushes against the walls of your arteries is very high. There are two important aspects to blood pressure – systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Your blood pressure is highest when your heart beats. This is your systolic pressure. The pressure in the arteries as your heart relaxes in between beats is your diastolic pressure. Your systolic and diastolic pressure readings are the two numbers that you’re made aware of when you go to any healthcare professional to check your blood pressure.2
Normal blood pressure is considered to be at or below 120/80 mm/Hg, where 120 is the systolic pressure and 80 is the diastolic pressure. If your pressure readings are between 120/80 mm/Hg and 139/89 mm/Hg, you are in the pre-hypertension stage. Your blood pressure is considered to be high when it is at or above 140/90 mm/Hg.
Your blood pressure may vary during the day, depending on your activities. While a brief rise in blood pressure is normal, continuous high blood pressure can mean that you need medical attention.
High Blood Pressure In Children
Normal blood pressure values vary with age. And as babies grow, their systolic pressure increases from approximately 70–90 to reach adult values when they become teenagers. Doctors define high blood pressure in kids as a value higher than the blood pressure of 95% of children of the same age, gender, and height. And it is usual for doctors to check blood pressure values in the course of routine checkups from the age of 3. Do make sure that you don’t miss doctor’s appointments especially if your child has a family history of high blood pressure or is overweight.3
Causes Of High Blood Pressure
Though we don’t yet know exactly why most cases of high blood pressure develop, some factors like being overweight, having too much salt or alcohol, not being physically active, taking birth control pills, and medical conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, or gout can increase your risk for this condition. As can pregnancy and a family history of high blood pressure. Women are just as likely to develop this condition during their lifetime as men but it affects more men than women under the age of 45. This balance shifts as you grow older and more women than men are affected after the age of 65.4
There’s no cure for blood pressure. And it is a dangerous condition which can lead to serious illnesses like heart failure, heart attack, peripheral arterial disease, stroke, and kidney failure. But don’t lose heart! There’s a lot you can do to manage high blood pressure. The first step, of course, is finding out whether you have high blood pressure so you can take proactive steps to manage it before it causes complications. Read on to find out if there are any warning signs that can alert you to this condition.
Signs And Symptoms Of High Blood Pressure
The tricky thing about high blood pressure is that it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. This is why it’s known as a “silent killer.” The only way to ascertain whether you have high blood pressure is to take a blood pressure test. This is a simple and painless test which can be done at a medical facility, a pharmacy, and even some grocery stores. In fact, your blood pressure can also be monitored at home. It is recommended that you get your blood pressure checked at least once every year.5
High blood pressure is symptomless – and that’s why it is called a silent killer. Don’t expect to be alerted by a set of symptoms. Keep tabs on your blood pressure numbers regularly so you are aware if they cross the normal threshold.
Certain symptoms like flushing, getting spots in your eyes, and dizziness are commonly thought to be symptoms of high blood pressure in both men and women. But if high blood pressure doesn’t usually cause symptoms, are these just myths? Well, the thing is, though high blood pressure may not be causing these symptoms, it could be indirectly related to them. Here’s what could be going on:
When blood vessels in your face dilate, you tend to experience facial flushing. High blood pressure doesn’t cause facial flushing but factors like exposure to hot water or heat, emotional stress, exercise, and alcohol which can temporarily raise your blood pressure do result in facial flushing. So, when these factors are at play, you could experience both high blood pressure and facial flushing in tandem.6
High blood pressure doesn’t cause dizziness. But loss of balance and dizziness can be a common symptom of stroke. And high blood pressure is a major risk factor for this condition.
Spots In Your Eyes
High blood pressure doesn’t cause blood spots in your eyes, but they’ve been found to be more common in people with this condition.
Signs Of Severe High Blood Pressure
If your blood pressure is 180/110 mm Hg or higher it is considered a medical emergency.7 In this case you might experience several symptoms like:
Your vision may get blurred and you may not be able to see fine details.
Changes In Mental Status
You may experience effects like confusion, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, and sleepiness. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate and feel less alert.
Pain or a sense of pressure in your chest is a red flag.
A nose bleed can also be indicative of severe high blood pressure.
You may experience a severe, throbbing headache
Your legs, arms, face, or other parts may start to feel numb.
Most adults normally produce at least 500 ml (a little more than 2 cups) of urine in 24 hours. You may find that your urine output decreases considerably.8
Nausea or vomiting can also be symptoms of extremely high blood pressure.
A seizure can manifest in many ways including uncontrollable shaking, a brief blackout, a staring spell, loss of bladder control, drooling, eye movements, and unusual behavior like picking at your clothes.9
Shortness Of Breath
You may find it difficult to breathe or feel like you’re not getting enough air.
You may experience a loss of strength in your legs, arms, face, or other parts.
Do keep in mind that many organs, including your brain, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and heart, can get damaged by an extreme increase in blood pressure. If treated immediately, it’s possible to control a severe increase in blood pressure before it causes permanent damage. Do seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms or you feel that your blood pressure is dangerously high.10
High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
It is estimated that problems due to high blood pressure occur in 6 to 8% of pregnancies in America. Of these around 70% are first-time pregnancies.11 Your doctor will be monitoring your blood pressure during prenatal check-ups to ensure that everything is under control.
In some cases, women can develop a condition known as pre-eclampsia or pregnancy-induced hypertension which is characterized by increased blood pressure. This condition generally develops after the 20th week of pregnancy and, initially, you might not experience any symptoms though your doctor will be able to determine that you have it by testing for high blood pressure and protein in your urine. As pre-eclampsia progresses, it can cause several symptoms.
Signs Of Pregnancy-Induced Hypertension Or Pre-Eclampsia
- Fluid retention: Pre-eclampsia can lead to fluid retention, which manifests as a sudden swelling in your ankles, feet, hands, and face.
Fluid retention is a common symptom during pregnancy and usually occurs in your lower body parts like the ankles and feet. Also, fluid retention due to pregnancy builds up slowly during the course of the day. Pre-eclampsia, on the other hand, can be sudden and can cause swelling in the hands and face as well as the ankles and feet.
- Headaches: You may experience severe headaches.
- Vision problems: You may have problems like seeing flashing lights or blurred vision.
- Pain: You may experience pain in your upper abdomen right below your ribs.
- Vomiting: Vomiting can also be a symptom of this condition.
If pre-eclampsia is not treated, it can increase your risk for blood clotting problems, seizures, and stroke. It can also cause fluid in your lungs and damage your kidney or liver. Moreover, it increases changes or a premature birth or still birth.12
Do keep in mind that it’s possible to have severe pre-eclampsia without experiencing any symptoms. It is therefore important to have regular check-ups to test your blood pressure and urine while you’re pregnant.
Symptoms Of Complications Due To High Blood Pressure
Since high blood pressure usually doesn’t cause symptoms, you may not realize that you have it if you don’t get tested. We keep repeating this because it’s estimated that 1 out of 5 Americans with high blood pressure are unaware that they have this condition.13 Over time, high blood pressure can damage your body and cause various complications.
Take a look at these figures to understand why it’s important to monitor blood pressure regularly. About 70% of those who have their first heart attack or those with chronic heart failure have high blood pressure. And around 80% of those who get their first stroke have high blood pressure.14
Here are some common symptoms of complications caused by high blood pressure you should be aware of.
Chronic Kidney Disease
This is a condition where the blood vessels in your kidneys become narrow. It can even lead to kidney failure.
Symptoms to watch out for: In the early stages, you may experience loss of appetite, fatigue, headaches, nausea, weight loss, and dry or itchy skin. As the condition worsens, you can expect symptoms like unusually light or dark skin, sleepiness or problems concentrating, muscle twitches and cramps, blood in your stool, swelling or numbness in your feet and hands, bad breath, shortness of breath, excessive thirst, bone pain, vomiting etc.15
High blood pressure may lead to blood vessels in your eyes bursting or bleeding.
Symptoms to watch out for: You will experience changes in your vision or even blindness.
When a part of your heart doesn’t get oxygen because the flow of blood which carries oxygen to the heart is blocked, you have a heart attack
Symptoms to watch out for: You may experience symptoms like discomfort or pain in your chest as well as shortness of breath. You may also feel discomfort or pain in the back, shoulders, jaw, neck, upper stomach, or in an arm or both your arms.
A condition where your heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to fulfill the body’s needs.
Symptoms to watch out for: You could experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in your feet, ankles, legs, veins in the neck and abdomen.
Peripheral Artery Disease
A condition where plaque builds up in the arteries in your legs and affects blood flow.
Symptoms to watch out for: Common symptoms include heaviness, numbness, cramping, and pain in your feet, legs, and buttocks after climbing stairs or walking.
A condition where the flow of blood and oxygen supply to a part of your brain is blocked.
Symptoms to watch out for: You may have symptoms like dizziness, sudden weakness, and difficulty speaking, seeing, or understanding speech. You could also experience numbness or paralysis of the legs, arms, or face.
An aneurysm is an unusual bulge that develops in the wall of an artery and it can grow for years without causing any symptoms.
Symptoms to watch out for: The signs of an aneurysm can vary depending on its location. For instance, one located near your body’s surface can lead to a throbbing lump and you may experience swelling and pain. When in the brain, it can cause dizziness, headaches, or double vision; in the abdomen, it may cause pain and a throbbing sensation in the abdominal area.16 17 18
Dementia is a condition where you experience a decline in the way your brain functions. According to research, high blood pressure can, over time, lead to changes in the way your brain works and increase your risk for dementia.19 20
Symptoms to watch out for: You may experience problems with memory, judgment, language, and mental agility. You may also find that you’ve become apathetic or that your thinking has slowed down. You could have trouble socializing or controlling your emotions too. 21
|↑1||What Is High Blood Pressure? American Heart Association.|
|↑2||High Blood Pressure (Hypertension).U.S. Food and Drug Administration.|
|↑3||High Blood Pressure (Hypertension). Nemours Foundation.|
|↑4, ↑13, ↑14||High Blood Pressure Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑5||5 Surprising Facts About High Blood Pressure. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑6||What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure? American Heart Association.|
|↑7||The Facts About High Blood Pressure. American Heart Association.|
|↑8||Urine output – decreased. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑9||Seizures. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑10||Malignant hypertension. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑11||High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑12||Pre-eclampsia or pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH). Healthdirect Australia.|
|↑15||Chronic kidney disease. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑16||Aneurysm. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑17||What Are the Signs and Symptoms of an Aneurysm? National Institutes of Health.|
|↑18||What Are the Signs, Symptoms, and Complications of High Blood Pressure? National Institutes of Health.|
|↑19||What Are the Signs, Symptoms, and Complications of High Blood Pressure? National Institutes of Health.|
|↑20||Kennelly, Sean P., Brian A. Lawlor, and Rose Anne Kenny. “Blood pressure and dementia—a comprehensive review.” Therapeutic advances in neurological disorders 2, no. 4 (2009): 241-260.|
|↑21||About dementia. National Health Service.|