According to guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC), a reading below 120/80 mm Hg is classified as normal blood pressure. Those with a blood pressure reading anywhere from 120/80 up to 129/80 are classified within a category called elevated blood pressure. Hypertension is defined as a reading of 130/80 or higher.
However, it’s possible to have a high systolic blood pressure and a normal diastolic blood pressure, or vice versa. Having a high systolic blood pressure and normal diastolic blood pressure, referred to as isolated systolic hypertension, is actually common among older adults and can lead to serious health problems. And research suggests that isolated systolic hypertension may be on the rise in young adults, potentially putting millions of individuals at risk for heart disease and stroke.
Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff (sphygmomanometer). This may be done using a stethoscope and a cuff and gauge or by an automatic machine. It is a routine part of the physical examination and one of the vital signs often recorded for a patient visit. Other vital signs include pulse rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate), temperature, and weight.
The brain requires unobstructed blood flow to nourish its many functions. Very high, sustained blood pressure will eventually cause blood vessels to weaken. Over time these weaken vessels can break, and blood will leak into the brain. The area of the brain that is being fed by these broken vessels start to die, and this will cause a stroke. Additionally, if a blot clot blocks a narrowed artery, blood ceases to flow and a stroke will occur.
Elevated blood pressures in the medical setting may not necessarily reflect the individuals real status. "White coat hypertension" describes a patient whose blood pressure is elevated because of the stress of the visit to the doctor or other healthcare professional, and the worry that their blood pressure might be elevated. Repeated blood pressure checks at the doctor's office or the use of a home blood pressure monitoring device may be used to confirm that you have high blood pressure.
Whelton PK, et al. (2017). Guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online November 13, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2017.11.006. Accessed November 20, 2017.
When a direct cause for high blood pressure can be identified, the condition is described as secondary hypertension. Among the known causes of secondary hypertension, kidney disease ranks highest. Hypertension can also be triggered by tumors or other abnormalities that cause the adrenal glands (small glands that sit atop the kidneys) to secrete excess amounts of the hormones that elevate blood pressure. Birth control pills -- specifically those containing estrogen -- and pregnancy can boost blood pressure, as can medications that constrict blood vessels.
Exercise stress test: More commonly used for patients with borderline hypertension. This usually involves pedaling a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill. The stress test assesses how the body's cardiovascular system responds to increased physical activity. If the patient has hypertension this data is important to know before the exercise test starts. The test monitors the electrical activity of the heart, as well as the patient's blood pressure during exercise. An exercise stress test sometimes reveals problems that are not apparent when the body is resting. Imaging scans of the heart's blood supply might be done at the same time.