Updated: Apr 18, 2019
To start off, lets discuss what blood pressure is and what it means to your overall health.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries that carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it may damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high for a long time. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.
High blood pressure in the United States (1)
Having high blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States.
About 75 million American adults (32%) have high blood pressure—that’s 1 in every 3 adults.
About 1 in 3 American adults has pre-hypertension—blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal—but not yet in the high blood pressure range.
Only about half (54%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
High blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans in 2014—that’s more than 1,100 deaths each day.
High blood pressure costs the nation $48.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed days of work.
Now that we have an understanding of what high blood pressure is, how many people it affects and the severity of it, let's take a look at some of the symptoms and causes of high blood pressure.
Most individuals with high blood pressure have no warning signs or symptoms, even when their blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels. A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath and nosebleeds. Keep in mind, that these symptoms aren't specific and it varies from person to person and some don't arise until the person has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
There are two types of high blood pressure:
Primary (essential) hypertension
For most adults, there's no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type is called primary (essential) hypertension and it tends to develop gradually over many years.
This type of high blood pressure, called secondary hypertension, and it might be caused by an underlying condition. It tends to appear suddenly and may cause higher blood pressure than primary hypertension. These are some of the conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension:
Obstructive sleep apnea
Adrenal gland tumors
Certain defects you're born with (congenital) in blood vessels
Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers, and some prescription drugs
Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines (1)
High blood pressure can lead to excessive pressure on your artery walls caused which can damage your blood vessels, as well as organs in your body.
Other complications include:
Heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure can cause hardening and thickening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to a heart attack, stroke or other complications.
Aneurysm. Increased blood pressure can cause your blood vessels to weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.
Heart failure. As blood pressure rises, the heart has to work harder to pump blood. This causes the walls of the heart's pumping chamber to thicken (left ventricular hypertrophy). Eventually, the thickened muscle may have a hard time pumping enough blood to meet your body's needs, which can lead to heart failure.
Weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidneys. This can prevent the organs from functioning normally.
Thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes. Which can result in vision loss.
Metabolic syndrome. This syndrome is a cluster of disorders of your body's metabolism, including increased waist circumference; high triglycerides; low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol; high blood pressure and high insulin levels. These conditions make you more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Trouble with memory or understanding. Uncontrolled high blood pressure may also affect your ability to think, remember and learn. Trouble with memory or understanding concepts is becomes common as well.
Dementia. Narrowed or blocked arteries can limit blood flow to the brain, leading to a certain type of dementia (vascular dementia). A stroke that interrupts blood flow to the brain also can cause vascular dementia. (1)
The need for home monitoring
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure, and half of them don’t have it under control. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. (1)
Even though the American Heart Association and other organizations have opted for greater use of home blood pressure monitoring, it still isn't widespread. One reason may be that many health insurance companies do not cover the cost of blood pressure monitors.
“More frequent blood pressure monitoring allows more opportunities to detect blood pressure that is higher than the desired range. That may trigger more intensive treatment of elevated blood pressure,” says cardiologist Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor at Harvard Medical School. In other words, if you stay on top of it, you’ll do a better job of treating it. (2)
But, you don’t need coverage from your insurance to purchase a blood pressure monitor. You can buy a reliable and inexpensive home blood pressure monitor here.
A few things to look for:
an automatic monitor that doesn’t require a stethoscope (it’s easier to use)
a monitor that takes the blood pressure reading using a cuff that fits around the upper arm;
a read-out large enough for you to see the numbers;
a seal from an organization such as the European Society of Hypertension, International Protocol for the Validation of Automated BP Measuring Devices, or Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI). (3)
Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist for help calibrating your monitor and learning how to use it.
How often should you check? At first, take your blood pressure twice a day for a week. The best times are early in the morning (before you have taken any blood pressure medications) and again in the evening. After you’ve done this for a week, once or twice a month—or whatever your doctor recommends—is fine.
At-home blood pressure monitors can be a very effective way to see if blood pressure medications are doing the trick. "It can also be useful to monitor for the side effect of blood pressure that is too low. Just remember that home monitoring should not be used as a substitute for regular physician check-ups, especially for patients with poorly controlled blood pressure,” says Dr. Bhatt. (2)