How Is Elevated Blood Pressure Defined?
‘Elevated’ or ‘Elevated Normal’ blood pressure readings are categorised as occurring when they are higher than the optimal level for the normal functioning of the human body. When readings come in higher than the normal blood pressure range, also known as normotension, increased health risks associated with the elevated readings begin to be a cause for concern. Depending on which institution’s blood pressure categorisations you compare the readings to, elevated normal blood pressure readings are typically those where the systolic reading is between 120mmHg to 130mmHg, and/or the diastolic reading is between 80-85mmHg, assuming neither are higher than that which would place you in a more serious category as outlined below.
The systolic pressure reading is created when the heart contracts on a heartbeat to pump blood around the body, whereas the diastolic reading represents the pressure when the heart has relaxed and dilates to fill up again. The units of pressure, mmHg, represent millimetres of mercury. You can find more information about why blood pressure is measured in mmHg here.
You can analyse any blood pressure reading to see what it means and see where it plots on various blood pressure charts using the free tool on the home page of xBloodPressure.com
The ACC/AHA’s (American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association) blood pressure scale only considers a systolic reading of between 120-130mmHg as ‘elevated’ whereas if your diastolic reading exceeds 80mmHg they would already rank you as having Stage 1 Hypertension. This change to their scale was made in 2017 and meant a much larger proportion of the US population was now defined as having hypertension than previously. Hypertension is another word for high blood pressure and is categorised into Stage 1 and Stage 2 hypertension, followed by the ‘severe hypertension’ range which is also known as ‘hypertensive crisis’. At the very extreme is what is classed as ‘hypertensive emergency’ where immediately life threatening damage is occurring to the body’s organs and vessels as a result of blood pressure reaching excessively high levels.
Is Having Elevated Blood Pressure a Problem?
Elevated blood pressure is the first band of readings above the normotension range and brings increasing risks to your health. It is often an early warning sign that something in your lifestyle may need altering in order to avoid developing longer term hypertension. However, it is important not to read too much into a single blood pressure measurement, as there are a lot of different factors at work that can affect your blood pressure readings at any particular time. It is therefore advisable to use one of the affordable, automatic, digital blood pressure monitors readily available for use at home, from manufacturers such as Omron.
However, should you find that your blood pressure readings are consistently above the normal recommended ranges and you have considered the various temporary influences affecting your blood pressure numbers, then you should likely consider making some adjustments to your lifestyle in consultation with your qualified medical practitioner.
What Are The Symptoms of Elevated Blood Pressure?
It is highly unlikely that you would notice any symptoms from blood pressure levels in the elevated or elevated-normal range, as symptoms of high blood pressure do not tend to manifest themselves until it is too late, when hypertension has achieved something of an extreme level. This is not to say that your health remains unaffected by the elevation, your risks of certain medical conditions will have increased somewhat significantly. If you are unfamiliar with the medical conditions associated with high blood pressure they would include:
– heart attacks
– heart disease
– heart failure
– aortic aneurysms
– kidney disease
– peripheral arterial disease
– vascular dementia
High blood pressure or hypertension is therefore known as the, ‘silent killer’. According to the World Health Organisation, just under half of the 1.29 billion people that they estimate as having high blood pressure, in the 30 to 79 age group, are not even aware that they have the condition.
What Should I Do If my Blood Pressure Is Consistently Elevated?
If your blood pressure readings are averaging out as consistently elevated above the normotension range, then there are a number of lifestyle changes that could help you achieve a lower blood pressure. Also consult with your medical professionals before undertaking any drastic changes but some simple adjustments may include:
Think About Changing What you Eat.
You should aim to focus on a diet that is low in saturated fats as numerous studies have made the connection between saturated fat intake and the development of hypertension. Saturated fats are typically those that are solid at room temperatures such as fats found in pork, chicken (especially skin), lamb, beef, lard, butter and also fatty liquids such as cream and palm oil. You should look to only be gaining about 5-6% of daily calories from saturated fats according to the AHA. If you maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and grains, alongside low fat dairy options and possibly yogurt, it will be beneficial towards achieving a lower blood pressure. There are studies showing that a high dairy diet will reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure better than a low dairy diet, mostly linked to the increased calcium intake.
You should also keep the amount of salt in your diet relatively low as salt increases blood pressure. However as seen with caffeine, which also tends to increase blood pressure after consumption, by about 10mmHg, the sensitivity from person to person can vary a lot. Eating foods that are high in potassium content has been shown to reduce the effects of salt on blood pressure. Most adults should be looking to limit their sodium intake to about 1.5 grams a day (a levelled teaspoon has about 2.5g), so opting for low-sodium options of processed foods you may buy will be beneficial as processed food usually has a high salt content. Reading food labels in general will help you understand how you sodium intake could be adding up and where to make changes.
Keep Your Weight in Check.
Following on from diet, it should be noted that increased weight is normally associated with increased blood pressure. By losing a kilogram or 2.2 pounds you will generally see a blood pressure reading reduction of 1mm of mercury (mmHg). Women should look to keep waist sizes under 89cm or 35 inches and men less than 89cm or 40 inches (depending on ethnic group). Weight around the waist in particular increases the risk of high blood pressure more than fat stored in other areas of the body.
Exercise & Reduce Stress.
Keeping your weight down comes a combination of checking your calorie intake vs your energy requirements. If you are an Olympic swimmer your calorie intake will need to be many multiples of that of an office worker. Modern lifestyles tend to be quite sedentary so we need to force ourselves to exercise in order to keep healthy. Consistent regular exercise of 30 minutes a day or more will help to maintain a normal blood pressure, which might include anything from fast walking, jogging, swimming, weight training or any active sports that elevates your heart rate.
High blood pressure can also be caused or aggravated by stress. The stress hormone cortisol will drive up the pulse rate as well as blood pressure. So if you can work on ways to reduce the feelings of stress, this hormone release will be more limited and your body less at risk from the damage hypertension can cause. Activities such as meditation, hypnosis and planning ahead on what might be anticipated stressful events, should help you to handle these situations in a less stressful way. Recovering from stressful situations similarly by chatting with friends, socialising, taking some time away from work and exercising will all be helpful.
Quit smoking, vaping and reduce alcohol intake.
Smoking, vaping or drinking too much alcohol can cause both short and longer term increases in blood pressure. While drinking low levels of alcohol has been shown to reduce blood pressure in some studies, exceeding moderate recommended intake level can lead to alcohol induced hypertension – which has been shown to affect about 16% of the US population in past studies.