What Constitutes Hypertension?

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What Constitutes Hypertension?

Almost half of all adults in the United States have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. But what is hypertension? How is it defined, and how is it measured? Guidelines for blood pressure levels changed in 2017.

Hypertension is a condition that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and other potentially serious health conditions. Also called high blood pressure, it’s a state of health where the force of blood against artery walls is consistently high, causing the heart to work harder than necessary. 

Medical professionals define hypertension by measuring conditions in your body and comparing them to standard targets. These targets are set by various organizations and committees, so some doctors may use different numbers. You may have hypertension by some definitions and prehypertension by others. Regardless of the definition, your health is at risk. 

At ARK Cardiovascular & Arrhythmia Center, we use the 2017 guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. These targets set the warning bar earlier in the hypertension progression since the condition has few symptoms until its late stages when treatment becomes challenging. Like many diseases, hypertension is easier to treat when caught early. 

What constitutes hypertension? 

You’ll likely recognize the arm cuff used to take blood pressure readings. Blood constantly presses against artery walls, but like a car’s tires, there are both good and bad pressure levels. Whether using a manual pump or an automatic system, the blood pressure cuff inflates to put pressure on arteries in your arm. 

Systolic blood pressure, the first number in a reading, is the pressure in an artery when your heart beats, the maximum pressure in your body. Diastolic pressure is the lowest level between heartbeats. You have hypertension when these numbers exceed certain predetermined levels. 

Generally, the systolic number represents the major risk factor for hypertension, particularly among those over 50. For many people, the systolic number climbs with age, as large artery walls become stiffer and plaque deposits in blood vessels accumulate. 

When your diastolic number is high, this can also be the basis for a hypertension diagnosis. Recent research indicates that a 10-point rise in diastolic pressure doubles the risk of death from heart disease or stroke, about the same as a 20-point rise in systolic pressure. 

Blood pressure categories

All guidelines set the peak normal blood pressure as less than 120 systolic over 80 diastolic, or 120/80 as a concise measurement expression. 

You have elevated blood pressure when your systolic number measures between 120 and 129 while your diastolic number is less than 80. This is not classed as hypertension, but it’s a sign that you’re at risk of reaching those levels. 

Stage 1 hypertension starts at 130/80 and goes to 139/89. If either your systolic or diastolic number is high, you’ve reached stage 1. Both numbers do not need to be high. Diagnosis requires consistent readings within a range over time. A single test with results in stage 1 range doesn’t mean you have hypertension since your blood pressure can vary through the day. 

Stage 2 hypertension begins with a systolic number of 140 or higher or a diastolic number of 90 or higher. You reach hypertensive crisis when systolic exceeds 180 and diastolic goes over 120. 

You may not have any other symptoms, regardless of how high your blood pressure gets. Regular testing is important since it’s the only way to know hypertension is developing. 

Consult with the hypertension specialists at ARK Cardiovascular. You can reach our offices by phone or online to schedule an appointment. Hypertension is a silent killer. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Book your session today.