May 17th is observed as World Hypertension Day every year with the aim to raise awareness about prevention, detection, and control of high blood pressure. The theme for this year is “Know Your Numbers” which is to raise awareness about the importance of knowing your blood pressure readings.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the key controllable risk factors of chronic health problems such as heart disease and stroke. According to the National Family Health Survey in 2017, one in eight Indians suffer from hypertension which translates to 207 million people (men 112 million, women 95 million). In India, high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of premature deaths. The Global Burden of Diseases study reported that hypertension led to 1.63 million deaths in India in 2016. It is directly responsible for 57% stroke and 24% of coronary heart disease deaths in India.
So if you are a hypertensive or anyone in your family suffers from hypertension, it is important to keep a tab on your blood pressure. This is because monitoring your BP is the key to keeping it under control and prevent various health complications caused due to high blood pressure. But for that, you need to know about what is normal blood pressure, high blood pressure and what your blood pressure means.
What Is A Normal Blood Pressure?
According to the American Heart Association, 120/80 mm Hg is considered to be the normal reading for blood pressure. Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the blood vessels and is measured using a sphygmomanometer. The readings are recorded as two numbers, where the upper reading (120mm Hg) is known as the systolic reading and the lower is the diastolic reading (80 mm Hg).
The systolic blood pressure indicates the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries when the heart beats.
The diastolic blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries when the heart is resting in between the beats.
What Does Your Blood Pressure Mean?
The American Heart Association has classified the blood pressure into five different ranges. These are:
Normal blood pressure (BP): If your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (where systolic BP is less than 120 mm Hg and diastolic BP is less than 80 mm Hg), then your blood pressure is considered to be in the normal range. This indicates that your heart is healthy and hence, it is important to stick to your habits when it comes to diet and exercise.
Elevated blood pressure: This is the stage where your blood pressure readings consistently range from 120-129/less than 80 mm Hg (where systolic BP is 120 – 129 mm Hg and diastolic BP is less than 80 mm Hg). If you suffer from elevated blood pressure there are high chances that you might develop hypertension in the future if proper steps are not taken to control your blood pressure. These steps mostly focus on strict diet control, exercise routine, weight control, active lifestyle and stress management.
Stage 1 hypertension: It is when your blood pressure readings are consistently 130 – 139/ 80 – 89 mm Hg (where systolic BP is 130 – 139 mm Hg and diastolic BP is 80 – 89 mm Hg). Based on your age and risk factors, your doctors might recommend diet control or prescribe medications. If you or your family have a history of heart disease or are obese, then it is likely that doctors might advise medications to prevent cardiovascular complication such as heart attack or stroke.
Stage 2 hypertension: This is when your blood pressure consistently ranges higher than 140/90 mm Hg (where systolic BP is 140 mm Hg or higher and diastolic BP is 90 mm Hg or higher). This is when your doctor might prescribe blood pressure medications to control hypertension along with lifestyle medications. Moreover, you might be advised to check your BP at home and keep a tab on your overall health.
Hypertensive crisis: This is the fifth but most severe stage of hypertension which requires urgent medical attention. In this stage, your blood pressure readings exceed 180/120 mm Hg (where systolic BP is higher than 180 mm Hg and diastolic BP is higher than 120 mm Hg). It is advised to wait for five minutes and check your readings again. If the readings are still extremely high, then contact your doctor immediately. This indicates that you might be experiencing signs of organ damage such as shortness of breath, chest pain, back pain, weakness or numbness, difficulty in speaking or changes in vision. Do not wait for the readings to come down but rush to a hospital at the earliest.
Suffer From Hypertension? Tips To Keep In Mind
1. Invest in a digital BP monitor and use it regularly to check your blood pressure at home. Here are tips on how to choose a blood pressure monitor. Also, get your blood pressure tested at a hospital (from an expert or a qualified professional) once a year or during your regular health check-ups at a doctor’s clinic.
2. Rush to a hospital immediately if your blood pressure exceeds 180/120 mm Hg as it is a sign of hypertensive crisis. Also, if you experience symptoms of low blood pressure such as fainting, headache, dizziness, or fatigue, then do consult your doctor.
3. Eat a healthy diet low in sodium and fats to control your blood pressure along with regular intake of medicines and timely health checkups. Also, include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet and say no to sweetened beverages and processed foods.
4. Ideally, it is advised to exercise 30 – 45 minutes at least five times a day which includes brisk walking and strenuous workouts. For older individuals, it is recommended to perform physical activities at least twice a week. This is because it not only improves your blood circulation but also helps to control your blood pressure and lowers your risk of heart disease.
5. Limit the intake of alcohol as excessive drinking can increase the risk of hypertension. Also quit smoking as it can reduce the overall risk of cardiovascular diseases, a complication of high blood pressure.
6. If stress is the cause of high blood pressure, stress management should be considered as an effective intervention. Some of the techniques that can help to calm your mind and body and relieve stress include indulging in hobbies, playing a sport, joining a swim class or dance class or performing yoga and meditation.
This World Hypertension Day, let’s contribute to spreading awareness about high blood pressure and its numbers. Share this article with everyone you know and help them live a healthy and informed life because sharing is caring.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
1. Gupta R, Gaur K, S Ram CV. Emerging trends in hypertension epidemiology in India. J Hum Hypertens. 2018 Sep 25.
2. Anchala R, Kannuri NK, Pant H, et al. Hypertension in India: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prevalence, awareness, and control of hypertension. J Hypertens. 2014 Jun;32(6):1170-7.
3. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. The American Heart Association.