Remember that the systolic blood pressure is the top number in the blood pressure reading and represents the pressure in the arteries as the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries. A systolic blood pressure that is persistently higher than 140 mm Hg is usually considered elevated, especially when associated with an elevated diastolic pressure (over 90).
Isolated systolic hypertension, however, is defined as a systolic pressure that is above 140 mm Hg with a diastolic pressure that still is below 90. This disorder primarily affects older people and is characterized by an increased (wide) pulse pressure. The pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic and diastolic blood pressures. An elevation of the systolic pressure without an elevation of the diastolic pressure, as in isolated systolic hypertension, therefore, increases the pulse pressure. Stiffening of the arteries contributes to this widening of the pulse pressure.
Once considered to be harmless, a high pulse pressure is now considered an important precursor or indicator of health problems and potential end-organ damage. Isolated systolic hypertension is associated with a two to four times increased future risk of an enlarged heart, a heart attack (myocardial infarction), a stroke (brain damage), and death from heart disease or a stroke. Clinical studies in patients with isolated systolic hypertension have indicated that a reduction in systolic blood pressure by at least 20 mm to a level below 160 mm Hg reduces these increased risks.
White coat high blood pressure
A single elevated blood pressure reading in the doctor's office can be misleading because the elevation may be only temporary. It may be caused by a patient's anxiety related to the stress of the examination and fear that something will be wrong with his or her health. The initial visit to the physician's office is often the cause of an artificially high blood pressure that may disappear with repeated testing after rest and with follow-up visits and blood pressure checks. One out of four people that are thought to have mild hypertension actually may have normal blood pressure when they are outside the physician's office. An increase in blood pressure noted only in the doctor's office is called 'white coat hypertension.' The name suggests that the physician's white coat induces the patient's anxiety and a brief increase in blood pressure. A diagnosis of white coat hypertension might imply that it is not a clinically important or dangerous finding.
However, caution is warranted in assessing white coat hypertension. An elevated blood pressure brought on by the stress and anxiety of a visit to the doctor may not necessarily always be a harmless finding since other stresses in a patient's life may also cause elevations in the blood pressure that are not ordinarily being measured. Monitoring blood pressure at home by blood pressure cuff or continuous monitoring equipment or at a pharmacy can help estimate the frequency and consistency of higher blood pressure readings. Additionally, conducting appropriate tests to search for any complications of hypertension can help evaluate the significance of variable blood pressure readings.
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