In isolated systolic high blood pressure (isolated systolic hypertension, or ISH), systolic blood pressure is elevated (140 mm Hg or higher), but diastolic blood pressure stays below 90 mm Hg. This type of high blood pressure is more common in older adults, especially older women. In fact, the majority of people older than 60 who have hypertension have isolated systolic hypertension.
Healthcare professionals use a stethoscope and a manual sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. Typically they take the reading above your elbow. The sphygmomanometer has a bladder, cuff, bulb, and a gauge. When the bulb is pumped it inflates the bladder inside the cuff, which is wrapped around your arm. This inflation will stop the blood flow in your arteries. The stethoscope is used to listen for sound of the heartbeat, and no sound indicates that there is no flow. As the pressure is released from the bladder, you will hear the sound of the blood flowing again. That point becomes systolic reading. The diastolic reading is when you hear no sound again, which means that the blood flow is back to normal.
How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.
Blood pressure isn’t just a number. Chronically elevated blood pressure (hypertension) significantly increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, erectile dysfunction, eye disease (retinopathy), and kidney disease. Heart disease and stroke are two of the top five causes of death in the US (heart disease is #1), and hypertension is such a big contributor to both that the CDC claims hypertension was at least partially responsible for 410,000 deaths in the US in 2014.
Stroke. A stroke occurs when part of your brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, causing brain cells to die. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to stroke by damaging and weakening your brain's blood vessels, causing them to narrow, rupture or leak. High blood pressure can also cause blood clots to form in the arteries leading to your brain, blocking blood flow and potentially causing a stroke.
You may be directed to seek medical care if blood pressure readings are elevated if done as part of a community health screening. Isolated elevated blood pressure readings do not necessarily make the diagnosis of hypertension. Blood pressure readings vary throughout the day, and your primary care provider may record a different reading than the one that was measured in a screening that sent you in for care.
Women may have sexual dysfunction as a side effect of high blood pressure, as well. High blood pressure can reduce blood flow to your vagina. For some women, this leads to a decrease in sexual desire or arousal, vaginal dryness, or difficulty achieving orgasm. Improving arousal and lubrication can help. Like men, women can experience anxiety and relationship issues due to sexual dysfunction.
High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, so the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have yours measured. However, a single high reading does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. Many things can affect your blood pressure through the day, so your doctor will take a number of blood pressure readings to see that it stays high over time.