What does blood pressure tell you about your health?

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    Monitoring blood pressure is important for catching serious health problems early. (Shutterstock photo)

    While many people are aware keeping track of blood pressure is important, most people don’t actively keep track of their numbers, particularly if they were told all was well at their last doctor’s visit. That being said, keeping track of blood pressure is important; especially since modern medical breakthroughs have shown blood pressure means so much more than just a measure of force inside blood vessels.

    According to Everyday Health, blood pressure differences in the body can indicate underlying health problems. For example, if there is a difference in blood pressure from when a person is lying down versus when they are standing up, there may be heart problems, and if there are differences in blood pressure between the arms, it could be a sign of vascular disease.

    What is blood pressure?

    There are two numbers associated with blood pressure: Systolic and diastolic.

    The first number, the systolic number, indicates the pressure inside your vessels when your heart beats. The second number, the one written on the bottom, indicates the pressure between beats.

    Ideally, most individuals want their systolic number to be under 120 and the diastolic number to be under 80. But this is not an exact formula.

    What does high blood pressure tell you?

    According to the Mayo Clinic, high blood pressure (hypertension), which is defined as when the pressure in the blood vessels becomes high enough to potentially cause damage, increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.

    blood pressure

    Leading a sedentary lifestyle can put you at risk for blood pressure issues. (Shutterstock photo)

    “What high blood pressure means is too much resistance inside your arteries,” Ivan V. Pacold, MD, a cardiology professor at Loyola University’s Stritch School of Medicine and director of cardiology at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told Everyday Health. “Simply speaking, that causes arterial damage and increases your risk for stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney failure.”

    Certain individuals and groups are considered at high risk for hypertension, and while Hispanics tend to have lower numbers when it comes to blood pressure, the Office of Minority Health indicates Hispanics are 20 percent more likely to develop heart disease when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

    Other factors which increase the risk of high blood pressure include:

    • Tobacco use
    • Being older
    • Being African-American
    • Having a family history of high blood pressure
    • Being overweight
    • Leading sedentary lives
    • Having a high-sodium diet
    • Lack of vitamin D in diet
    • Drinking large quantities of alcohol
    • Having high levels of stress
    • Having sleep apnea
    • Having high cholesterol
    • Having kidney disease

    Symptoms of high blood pressure include headaches, dizziness and nosebleeds, though the majority of individuals do not have any outward signs of hypertension.

    Managing the condition may require the aid of medication; however, simply addressing the risk factors for hypertension can make a world of difference. Individuals looking to improve high blood pressure should learn to effectively manage stress, eat healthy, exercise regularly and avoid tobacco and alcohol use.

    What does low blood pressure tell you?

    High blood pressure is not the only cause of concern when it comes to blood pressure numbers.

    Low blood pressure, known as hypotension, comes with its own set of health concerns. Just like high blood pressure, low blood pressure can be life-threatening in some situations. It usually occurs as a result of dehydration, surgical complications, pregnancy, endocrine issues, trauma or heart problems.

    “In a healthy person, low blood pressure is a sign of good health as long as the systolic pressure is above 80,” explained Pacold. “Very low blood pressure in a person with heart disease could be a sign of heart failure.”

    Unlike high blood pressure, most people with hypotension do often have outward symptoms, including:

    • Nausea
    • Blurred vision
    • Dizziness
    • Pale, cold skin
    • Depression
    • Fatigue
    • Thirst
    • Shallow breathing
    • Fainting
    • Lack of concentration

    The Mayo Clinic states most cases of hypotension are not serious, but medical care should be sought if any symptoms are experienced. Low blood pressure, though not always a cause for concern, can indicate potentially serious underlying health problems.

    Managing hypotension at home depends on the reason behind low blood pressure; however, the Mayo Clinic recommends:

    • Drinking more water, less alcohol
    • Eating a healthy diet
    • Avoiding staying in one position for prolonged periods of time
    • Eating small, low-carb meals to prevent blood pressure from dropping after mealtime

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