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You might know high blood pressure, also called hypertension, is bad for your health. But in addition to hypertension, your blood pressure reading can indicate a lot of other health problems and conditions.
The BP Basics
You probably have had your blood pressure checked during a routine doctor’s visit. The medical assistant may have called out two numbers, such as “130 over 70.” But do you know what those numbers indicate? Learning the basics about blood pressure will help you understand what fluctuations in your BP may mean.
Blood pressure is recorded using two numbers. The top number is higher and indicates the force put on the arteries when your heart beats. That number is referred to as systolic. A normal systolic measurement is about 120 in adults.
The second number is the pressure in the arteries in between heartbeats. That number is called diastolic and is usually the lower of the two numbers. A normal diastolic BP is about 80. When blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, it is usually considered hypertension.
So why is that important to know? Your blood pressure is closely related to your heart function and even your overall health. When systolic pressure is elevated, it means your blood vessels are stained as your heart is pumping blood through your body. If your diastolic pressure is high, your arteries do not have much time to relax between heartbeats.
Chronically high blood pressure can cause various changes to take place in your arteries. For example, increased pressure can make your arteries stiff and thick, which increases your risk of a stroke and heart disease. Measuring blood pressure is quick and easy and should be done at least every few years starting at age 20.
Fluctuations in Blood Pressure
It’s important to understand that one high reading does not mean you have hypertension. Your blood pressure is not always the same. In fact, your blood pressure reading may even be a little different in each arm. Small fluctuations day to day are to be expected. For a large percentage of people, BP is lowest in the morning and higher in midafternoon.
Several things can cause a small change in blood pressure
The foods and beverages you eat and drink and even the position you’re in may cause a fluctuation. For example, if you eat a meal with a lot of sodium, it may cause your blood pressure to go up a bit. The extra salt can lead to fluid retention, which can raise BP. Caffeinated beverages may also temporarily increase blood pressure.
In some cases, fluctuations in blood pressure are due to illness, stress or medications. Blood pressure can increase if you are feeling tense or fearful. If you suffer from sleep apnea, you may also have increased blood pressure.
Certain medications and street drugs may elevate blood pressure. Drugs, such as cocaine, often cause a spike in BP shortly after use. Prescription medications including steroids may also be a culprit. Over the counter medications containing decongestants may also raise BP.