One in three adults in America has hypertension, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, hypertension can be treated with lifestyle modifications and medications, said Dr. Brittney Anderson, a third-year resident physician at The University of Alabama Family Medicine Residency.
Anderson provided a presentation on hypertension on Nov. 3 as part of the Mini Medical School program conducted by the UA College of Community Health Sciences in collaboration with UA’s OLLI program.
Mini Medical School lets adults and community learners explore trends in medicine and health, and the lectures by CCHS faculty and residents provide information about issues and advances in medicine and research. OLLI, short for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is a member-led program catering to those aged 50 years and older and offers education courses as well as field trips, socials, special events and travel.
Anderson started her presentation by illustrating hypertension, or high blood pressure.
“Think of it the way you would think of pressure from a water hose. What would alter that pressure? The size of the hose, and what the fluid in the hose is having to overcome,” she said.
Cholesterol buildup, for instance, can inhibit blood from moving at a normal pressure through blood vessels, she said.
Diagnosing hypertension starts with an accurate blood pressure reading, which can sometimes be challenging due to faulty or inaccurate measuring cuffs or other factors with the patient and environment, Anderson said.
She offered tips for an accurate blood pressure reading. First, be at your calmest—don’t worry about engaging in conversation. Second, support your back and feet, and keep your legs uncrossed. Third, empty your bladder so that it doesn’t affect your body’s stress level. And fourth, keep your arm supported at your heart level and make sure the cuff is over your bare arm (and not your clothes).
If patients are using an automated cuff for measuring blood pressure at home, the physician may ask that it be brought in for the exam to compare, Anderson said.
Normal blood pressure less than 120 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. Prehypertension is between 120-139 mm Hg systolic and 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. When the systolic reads 140-159 mm Hg, and diastolic reads 90-99 mm Hg, the patient may be diagnosed as Hypertension Stage 1. Hypertension Stage 2 is when the systolic is 160 mm Hg or higher, and the diastolic reading is 100 mm Hg or higher. A Hypertensive Crisis, which requires emergency intervention, is when the systolic is read at higher than 180 mm Hg and higher than 110 mm Hg diastolic.
If a patient has an elevated blood pressure reading of greater than or equal to 180/110 mm Hg, then the diagnosis is clearly hypertension, Anderson says.
“But if not, then we have to do some more digging,” she said. It could be that the patient suffers from “white coat hypertension,” which means the patient is nervous simply from being in the doctor’s office. Patients in that case would be asked to wear an ambulatory blood pressure cuff 24 hours a day for a few days for an accurate measurement.
Or, if a patient is diabetic, it causes damage to blood vessels. That means that if a reading is greater than 130/80 mm Hg and the patient is diabetic, then it is a diagnosis of hypertension.
There are risk factors that lead to hypertension, Anderson said. Primary risk factors include age, obesity, family history, race, diet and exercise and alcohol use. Secondary risk factors include medicines (like decongestants, birth control and steroids), illicit drugs, sleep apnea and renal disease.
Hypertension can be treated through lifestyle modifications, like weight loss, adopting an eating plan, adding physical activity and reducing alcohol and sodium intake, Anderson said. There are many medications, too. Thiazides, ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers are some of the most common.