• Diagnosing Hypertension

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    Your doctor can diagnose hypertension by checking your blood pressure. It is a very simple test that takes only a few minutes. Usually an inflatable upper arm cuff with a gauge is used. Your doctor or other medical professional will slide the blood pressure cuff to just above your elbow on your bare arm. The cuff will inflate, tightening around your upper arm. Once a measurement has been gathered, the cuff will deflate and your doctor will remove it.

    For the most accurate blood pressure readings:

    • Sit very still with your legs and ankles uncrossed.
    • Relax your arm while they measure your blood pressure.

    There are two numbers that make up your blood pressure reading, which is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg):

    • Systolic (sis-TOL-ic) pressure, the first number, measures the pressure as your heart beats and pushes blood through the vessels. A reading of less than 120 is normal; readings over 140 (over 135 if you have diabetes http://www.scai.org/SecondsCount/Disease/Diabetes.aspx) are considered high.
    • Diastolic (DI-a-STOL-ic) pressure, the second number, measures the pressure between heart beats. A diastolic reading below 80 is normal; above 90 indicates high blood pressure (above 85 if you have diabetes http://www.scai.org/SecondsCount/Disease/Diabetes.aspx).


    If your blood pressure is in the prehypertension range, your blood pressure is not as low as it should be for optimal health, but it is not high enough to be called hypertension. Prehypertension is a term used by doctors as a warning, because your blood pressure will likely increase over time. Modifying some lifestyle behaviors may help you prevent or delay the progression to hypertension.


    Once you have hypertension, it is classified into one of two stages. Stage 1 hypertension is an early form of hypertension, although it is still very important to control blood pressure readings in this range. With stage 1 hypertension, doctors may be able to suggest a trial of lifestyle modifications to see if blood pressure can be brought under control before prescribing medications. However, with stage 2 hypertension, the start of medications will usually be required immediately because the blood pressure numbers are more dangerously high and lifestyle changes alone could not bring them down.

    Normal, Prehypertension, and Hypertension Readings

    The chart below summarizes the difference between normal blood pressure, prehypertension, and high blood pressure.

      Systolic (mmHg)
    “Top Number”
    Diastolic (mmHg)
    “Bottom Number”
    Normal Blood Pressure less than 120 less than 80
    Prehypertension 120 to 139 80 to 89
    Stage 1 140 to 159 90 to 99
    Stage 2 greater than or equal to160 greater than or equal to100

    One high blood pressure reading is not enough for your doctor to make a diagnosis. Your doctor will need to see you at least three times to see a pattern of high blood pressure readings to diagnose hypertension.

    1. An initial reading will be taken at the first visit.
    2. An average of at least two properly measured readings will be taken at your next visit.
    3. An average of at least two more properly measured readings will be taken at a third visit.

    After your doctor has recorded high blood pressure readings during each of these visits, you can begin to discuss treatment options for hypertension in order to prevent complications. Your doctor may also ask you to keep a log of your blood pressure levels. You can purchase an inexpensive monitor for home use. Of available home blood pressure monitors, those that have an inflatable cuff that goes over the upper arm are typically more accurate than wrist or finger models.

    Arrive at your doctor’s appointment in plenty of time. If you are running late, frustrated because someone took your parking spot, or get lost finding your doctor’s new office, how do you think your blood pressure will respond? If you take medicines for blood pressure, take them as usual on the day of the doctor visit. You would not want your blood pressure to be undertreated because your doctor attributed elevated blood pressure as due to a missed dose of medication.

  • More About Hypertension

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    Blood Pressure Log

    Record your blood pressure each time you take it outside the doctor’s office. Bring it to your next doctor’s appointment and help your doctor see your blood pressure patterns.

    Blood Pressure Test

    High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, and other cardiovascular conditions. When a medical professional measures your blood pressure, that person is measuring the force with which blood moves through your artery walls. Too much force can damage the artery walls, leading to cardiovascular disease.

    Causes of Hypertension

    In some cases, an underlying cause of hypertension can be identified and corrected. But in most cases, the cause of hypertension is unknown and blood pressure increases slowly over time. Several risk factors appear to raise your risk of developing hypertension. But many risk factors can be controlled by following a healthy lifestyle.

    Hypertension and Your Heart

    Did you know you may be one of the 30 percent of Americans who have hypertension? Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is a common problem that can affect your health in many ways. It affects people of all ages, even children.

    Physical Activity

    Making regular physical activity part of your lifestyle is one of the most effective ways you can improve your own heart health.

    Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Hypertension

    The following questions can help you talk to your doctor about your individual risk of having hypertension. Print out or write down these questions and take them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.

    Reading Food Labels

    The Nutrition Facts panel on food packages tells you everything you need to know about the healthfulness of a product. You just have to know what to look for and how to interpret the information. Learn more about what to ignore and what to consider carefully.

    Resources on Hypertension

    Resources on Hypertension

    Salt & Your Heart: Cutting Back on Sodium May Be a Life Saver

    Did you know that the average American consumes more than twice the amount of sodium recommended by the American Heart Association? And worldwide people on average consume nearly double the levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Researchers have found that this consumption contributes to 2.3 million deaths per year from cardiovascular disease, primarily from coronary heart disease, which causes heart attack, and stroke. You can’t change your age or your family history of heart disease, but your sodium intake is a heart disease risk factor that you can do something about, starting today.

    Smoking Cessation

    Smoking is a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Especially if you have heart disease, that’s reason enough to quit.

    Special Considerations for Your Diet

    When you have high blood pressure, heart failure, or heart valve disease, you should be aware of special dietary considerations that will contribute to your wellness. For many patients, these are critical for health and may even help manage symptoms and make you feel better.

    Stress Management

    A little stress in life is natural and good. It may help you buckle down and focus on a task at hand. But modern life is more stressful than ever.

    Symptoms of Hypertension

    Hypertension is called the “silent killer” because there are usually no symptoms and many people don’t know they have it. But uncontrolled hypertension can cause serious problems. Checking your blood pressure is the only way to know if you have hypertension.

    Tips to Flavor Your Food

    Slashing sodium doesn’t have to mean food has no flavor. Try these creative ways to add herbs and spices to your favorite foods.

    Treatment Options for Hypertension

    Making some lifestyle changes may help lower your blood pressure. But often one or more blood pressure medications are also needed to keep your blood pressure in the normal range. In the near future, you might find you are a candidate for renal denervation, a new treatment that can help lower blood pressure in some people.