What Does It Feel Like To Have High Blood Pressure?

The heart is responsible for pumping blood into the vessels which transport blood to the entire body. The volume of blood moving through your blood vessels and the degree of resistance the blood encounters when the heart is pumping are considered when measuring your blood pressure.

High blood pressure – often known as hypertension – is a condition in which blood pressure is greater than usual. Over time, if your blood pressure is too high, it can cause your arteries to become hard and thick (atherosclerosis), which can increase your risk of a stroke or heart attack. Untreated high blood pressure can also damage your kidneys and other organs.

One of the most concerning aspects of high blood pressure is that many people can be asymptomatic and not realize that their blood pressure is high. This is why it is extremely important to see your general practitioner for regular health checks.

This article will look at what it's like to have high blood pressure, any noticeable symptoms you should be aware of, and when you should visit your doctor.

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What does it feel like to have high blood pressure? 

It is reported that about 116 million¹ individuals in the United States have high blood pressure, yet only approximately one-fourth of these people have it under control.

Unregulated high blood pressure can harm your health in several ways, including:

Stroke or heart attack

High blood pressure can promote artery hardening and thickening (atherosclerosis), which can result in a heart attack or stroke.

Heart failure

Heart failure occurs when your heart becomes weak and injured due to high blood pressure or repeated heart attacks to the point where it cannot adequately pump blood around the body.

Aneurysm

High blood pressure can cause your blood vessels to weaken and enlarge to form a bulge, known as an aneurysm. When an aneurysm ruptures, it can be fatal.

Kidney dysfunction or failure

Hypertension can affect the arteries surrounding the kidneys, as the smaller vessels within your kidneys may not be able to filter blood properly. As time passes, this damage prevents the kidneys from working effectively.

Loss of vision

High blood pressure can harm the tiny, fragile blood arteries that feed blood to the eyes, and this can damage the blood vessels within the light-sensitive tissue found in the retina. This damage may cause bleeding in the eye, impaired vision, or complete vision loss.

What is the difference between primary and secondary high blood pressure?

In most cases, high blood pressure is a chronic illness and is classified as primary or secondary hypertension.

What is primary hypertension?

People often mean primary hypertension when they talk about chronic hypertension. This is because primary hypertension is responsible for about 95% of all²cases.

It is sometimes referred to as idiopathic or essential high blood pressure. Above-normal blood pressure is anything greater than 120/80 mmHg, and it signifies that your artery pressure is more than it should be.

Although there is no known cause of primary hypertension, numerous risk factors increase your likelihood of developing the condition, including:

Aging

As you become older, you're more prone to developing high blood pressure. Hypertension is more common in people aged 65 and over.

Smoking

The implications of smoking on hypertension³ are well recognized, and smoking can have severe consequences on your heart's health and blood pressure levels.

Medical background

Heart disease, diabetes, chronic renal disease, and excessive cholesterol levels contribute to hypertension, particularly as you age.

Obesity or being overweight

Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing essential hypertension. A lack of regular physical activity can also have adverse outcomes.

Diet

You are at a higher risk of high blood pressure if you are stressed, consume too much salt, do not eat your fruits and vegetables, and do not exercise regularly.

Gender

Men have a greater chance of developing hypertension than women, according to a 2018 study.⁴ This, however, is only true in premenopausal women.

Ethnicity

Certain ethnic groups are more likely to develop hypertension than others. 

Lack of check-ups

Because primary high blood pressure can develop for no apparent reason, getting your blood pressure checked at least once a year is recommended. Timely diagnosis allows for earlier treatment, which can help prevent further damage to your blood vessels.

Other

What is secondary hypertension?

Secondary hypertension occurs when you develop high blood pressure due to a pre-existing medical condition. One common cause of secondary high blood pressure is a complication with the arteries that carry blood to your kidneys. Other reasons include sleep apnea, adrenal gland problems and tumors, hormone imbalances, and thyroid disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypertension?

Most people with hypertension have no symptoms (they are asymptomatic), though some individuals may experience the following:

  • Nosebleeds

  • Tiredness or confusion

  • Vision problems

  • Chest aches

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Blood in urine

  • Facial flushing 

  • Subconjunctival hemorrhage

Most of these symptoms do not occur until blood pressure is at a critically high level.

What happens during a blood pressure check?

The most common method of measuring blood pressure is with a sphygmomanometer, which is made up of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump, and valve.

During the test, the cuff is wrapped around the upper part of one of your arms, held out at the same level as your heart. The cuff is inflated, either manually or automatically. Try to use a pillow or the armrest of a chair to support your arm.

The cuff temporarily restricts blood flow, and the tightness may be uncomfortable at first, but this will only last a few seconds. Following that, the pressure in the cuff is gradually released, and monitors detect movements in your arteries to gauge your blood pressure.

The most reliable measurement is believed to be resting blood pressure. To get an accurate figure, it is important for your blood pressure measurements to be taken in a calm, warm atmosphere. You may be asked to sit quietly for a few minutes with your feet supported. Your doctor may take about two blood pressure measurements, ideally five minutes apart. If the values differ by over 5 mm Hg, they may take more measurements until they get more similar readings. The goal is to obtain a consistent reading rather than average a wide range of numbers.

You should avoid drinking caffeine and smoking before taking the test, and your doctor will advise of any other requirements. 

How to understand high blood pressure readings

When a healthcare practitioner takes your blood pressure, it is expressed as a fraction with two digits, one on top and one on the bottom. Combining the two values indicates if your blood pressure is within a normal range.

Systolic pressure

The first or top figure is your systolic pressure. When your heart beats, it compresses and pumps blood to the entire body through your arteries. The force exerted puts pressure on your blood vessels, creating your systolic blood pressure.

Diastolic pressure

The number at the bottom is your diastolic pressure. When your heart relaxes between beats, the diastolic pressure measures blood pressure in your arteries.

Your blood pressure should be less than 120/80 if you have normal blood pressure, and it's pronounced: "120 over 80." If your blood pressure is higher than average in either or both systolic and diastolic levels, your doctor will want to take more than one reading before diagnosing high blood pressure.

What is normal blood pressure, and when is it high?

The unit of measurement for blood pressure is millimeters of mercury. Here's what the figures mean:

Optimal

Your systolic pressure should be between less than 120 mm Hg, and the diastolic pressure should be less than 80 mm Hg for an optimal blood pressure level.

If your blood pressure is in this range, it typically indicates that your heart is in good health.

The only way to determine whether your blood pressure is too high is to measure it regularly

Normal

If your systolic blood pressure is between 120-129 mm Hg and your diastolic is between 80-84 mm Hg, this is seen as normal.

High-normal

Those with systolic measures of 130-139 mm Hg and diastolic of 85-89 mm Hg are classified as high-normal.

People within the high-normal blood pressure group are more likely to suffer from hypertension unless they manage the condition. It indicates that you should monitor your blood pressure and practice heart-healthy activities.

Stage 1 hypertension

Stage 1 hypertension is defined as having a systolic blood pressure of 140-159 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure of 90-99 mm Hg.

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle adjustments alongside blood pressure medication, depending on your risk factors for a heart attack, stroke, or other atherosclerotic cardiovascular diseases (ASCVD).

Stage 2 hypertension

Stage 2 hypertension signals a more critical condition. Stage 2 hypertension is defined as having a systolic blood pressure of 160-179 mm Hg and/or a diastolic blood pressure of 100-109 mm Hg. Your doctor will most likely recommend a mix of blood pressure medication and lifestyle adjustments at this stage of high blood pressure.

Stage 3 (severe)

Stage 3 is defined as having a systolic blood pressure of greater than 180 mm Hg and/or a diastolic of over 110 mm Hg. 

This level of hypertension demands urgent medical intervention. Your doctor will most likely take a second measurement within a few minutes if your blood pressure is this high.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, speak with your healthcare provider about your blood pressure readings and how they influence your treatment plan.

Treatment options for high blood pressure

The treatment for hypertension is determined by your blood pressure level, along with your lifestyle and risk factors.

The objective of controlling high blood pressure is to stop it from progressing to clinical hypertension. At this point, no drugs will be necessary. Instead, your doctor may advise you to:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and a vegetables

  • Reduce salt and saturated fat intake

  • Increase physical activity and exercise regularly

  • Work on weight loss, if you are overweight

  • Restrict your alcohol consumption

For hypertension, your doctor may recommend a trial of lifestyle modifications first. However, some people may realize that they'll need to take medicine to lower their blood pressure to healthier ranges.

To decrease your blood pressure further, you will most likely need to start taking medication in addition to making lifestyle changes; though that doesn't imply you'll always require medication. Losing weight, reducing stress, improving your diet, and exercising on a regular basis can all help to get your readings back into the healthy range.

To help reduce your blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe some of the following medications:

  • Diuretics

  • ACE inhibitors

  • Beta-blockers

  • Alpha-blockers

  • Calcium channel blockers

When should you see a doctor?

You should see your doctor regularly to have your blood pressure checked. In addition, if you experience any of the symptoms listed above, such as headache, difficulty breathing, or chest pain, see your doctor immediately. 

Home remedies for high blood pressure

Your primary care provider will check your blood pressure regularly, and if you do have high blood pressure, they will be able to advise you on lifestyle modifications that can help lower it. If your doctor has prescribed medicine, be sure you take it exactly as instructed.

Some home treatments to try that may help control hypertension include:

  • Changing your eating habits, such as reducing your salt intake and boosting your potassium intake

  • Giving up cigarettes; get help to quit, if you need it

  • Drinking alcohol in moderation

  • Exercising regularly, and talking to your healthcare practitioner about developing a strategy to improve your activity, if you have been inactive

  • Relaxing by using lavender oil or candles as stress has the potential to raise blood pressure.

The lowdown

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is commonly referred to as the "silent killer" since it often shows no symptoms, yet it can endanger your health and life. Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of your blood pressing against your blood vessels as it flows through your body. If it is too high, it can cause long-term damage to the arteries, generating microscopic rips that catch plaque and lead to clogs. Hypertension raises your chances of developing heart disease, having a heart attack, having a stroke, and/or suffering other organ damage.

High blood pressure should always be taken seriously. With lifestyle adjustments, there is a chance that high blood pressure will return to normal. However, it will often require lifestyle modifications and medication to maintain the desired blood pressure.

Treatment is essential as it will significantly reduce the likelihood of a heart attack, stroke, or other high blood pressure-related problems.

Have you considered clinical trials for High blood pressure?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for High blood pressure, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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