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Blood pressure refers to the force with which the blood is pumped through the blood vessels by your heart. Its measurement is indicative of your cardiovascular condition. Monitoring your blood pressure may help in the early detection of any cardiovascular issue. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how the blood pressure measurement gets influenced by various factors so that you can get accurate results.

Blood Pressure Levels – What Is Normal?

Blood pressure level

When you go for any clinic visit, you must have heard the doctors or nurses mentioning your blood pressure is one value over another. And when you measure it at home, the blood pressure reading on your device will flash two numbers. What do they mean?  

Systolic blood pressure is the first number visible in the display, it is a measure of the pressure of the blood that is pumped through your arteries by the contraction of your heart muscles. The second number is called diastolic pressure which indicates the pressure of blood on the arterial walls when the heart rests between the beats.[1] 

  • A blood pressure value of up to 120/80 mmHg is considered to be normal. 
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure refers to the detection of values higher than 140/90 mmHg frequently. It may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack if not managed effectively. Detection of hypertension is an indicator of potential or existing cardiovascular conditions. 
  • Hypotension or low blood pressure is diagnosed by a value of 90/60 mmHg or less. It results in weakness, dizziness, fainting, and may even cause damage to your brain and heart. 

The blood pressure values keep on fluctuating throughout the day depending on the type of activity you are involved in. It is normal and the value goes back to normal when you relax for a few minutes. Fluctuations in blood pressure are normal unless you experience the symptoms of either hypertension or hypotension.

Symptoms to Look Out For

Symptoms to look out for

Hypertension

It usually exhibits no signs or symptoms during the early stage. So regular checks are a must if you think you may be at risk of developing hypertension. In case of severe hypertension (an already diagnosed one), the below-listed signs are concerning and should be reported to the doctor.[3]

  • Nosebleed
  • Fatigue and/or dizziness
  • Confusion and/or nervousness 
  • Severe headache
  • Pain in chest
  • Problems in vision
  • Pounding sensation in neck, ears, or chest
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Irregularity in heartbeat
  • Bloody urine

Hypotension

Appearance of the following symptoms may be indicative of a critical case of a lowered blood pressure.[2]

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Pale, clammy, cold skin
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Dehydration
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blurry vision 
  • Depression

Does Your Blood Pressure Go Up After You Eat?

blood pressure after eating

An elevation of blood pressure after eating is not normal. Usually, the blood pressure drops after having a meal. This is because when you eat, the blood is redirected to the gastrointestinal tract to facilitate digestion, which causes a temporary reduction in blood pressure somewhere else. The blood vessels surrounding the digestive tract will constrict, which forces the heart to pump more blood quickly to maintain the blood pressure.

Detection of a higher blood pressure level after having a meal is temporary, but it may be indicative of an underlying condition if the level doesn’t normalize within 1-2 hours. In addition to this, eating food that has high sodium content may heighten the blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals. 

On the other hand, the elderly experience postprandial hypotension. To put it in simpler words, lowered blood pressure after having the meals. This happens when the heart isn’t able to regularize the flow of blood after redirecting the extra amount needed for assisting the digestion process. 

Can Certain Type of Food Impact Blood Pressure?

Yes. People who fall in the category of prehypertension or hypertension may experience elevated blood pressure after having meals when they are rich in salt or saturated fat.

Salt: Ready-to-eat foods and processed food products contain higher levels of sodium or salt, which may cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. 

Saturated Fat: Saturated fats in fried foods, fatty red meat, poultry skin, butter, cheese, tropical oils, lard, and dairy products, are rich in low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Consumption of such products may raise blood pressure levels in the long run as LDL tends to build up in the blood vessels restricting the flow of blood. 

Can Not Eating Cause High Blood Pressure?

Not eating for a few minutes or 1-2 hours before measuring your blood pressure value may not impact the blood pressure, but fasting for a longer duration may drop the blood pressure. Plus, it may potentially increase the odds of experiencing nutritional inadequacies and electrolyte imbalance. 

When Should You Check Blood Pressure?

when should you check blood pressure

As the different activities influence the blood pressure, making it fluctuate throughout the day, it is recommended to check it every day around the same time. 

  • Do not check blood pressure after eating, smoking, or drinking. Wait for at least 30 minutes.
  • Wait for 30-45 minutes after exercising before taking the reading. 
  • Empty your bladder before measuring the levels.
  • Sit and relax by sitting with a straight back, uncrossed legs, and both feet touching the floor. 
    • Rest the arm on a flat surface before taking the reading after 5 minutes in this position.
    • Measure thrice at one-minute intervals to take an average value.
  • Do not talk or move your arm during the measurement as it may affect the final result.

Other Factors to Take Care Of

  • Make sure the room temperature is normal for you. Your blood pressure may spike temporarily if you feel cold. 
  • Use the correct cuff size. If the cuff is too tight or loose, your blood pressure levels can get affected. 
  • Put the cuff on bare skin. Putting it over clothing can affect the findings.
  • Relax your mind and avoid stressful thoughts. 

When to Consult a Doctor?

when to consult doctor for blood pressure

Everyone above the age of 29 years should get their blood pressure checked at least once a year. If hypertension runs in your family, it is a good option to start monitoring your blood pressure once you are 35 years of age. Sooner, if you have a sedentary lifestyle and tend to consume a lot of packaged food. 

You should discuss with your doctor if your blood pressure reading is higher than normal. The doctor may advise further tests to evaluate your health status and suggest a suitable treatment. 

  • In case your blood pressure levels are turning out to be over 120/80 mmHg but less than 139/89 mmHg, you fall in the prehypertension category. 
    • The doctor may suggest you modify your diet and increase your physical activity.
    • Cutting back the salt, saturated fats, and processed foods may help you manage your blood pressure.
    • Following a specialized diet such as the Mediterranean diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet may help lower blood pressure.[4]
  • If you have hypertension, the doctor may prescribe some medications along with dietary and lifestyle changes. 
    • Usually, medications such as Enapril-5 are prescribed in combination with another antihypertensive. The antihypertensive pills are to be used once daily and are quite effective in maintaining blood pressure levels.
    • Medications alone cannot do all the work, the dietary modifications and lifestyle changes are necessary. Include more wholesome food products rich in protein, fiber, potassium, and magnesium. Try working out at least three times a week, or go for a walk/jog around the block every day. 

Key Takeaway

Many factors, like eating food, drinking alcohol, smoking, exercising, etc., may influence the blood pressure results. Temporary spikes are normal and nothing to worry about. Does eating raise blood pressure or lower it? If you already have hypertension or have the potential to develop it, you should be cautious of the type of food you are consuming to maintain raising blood pressure. 

But before making serious changes to your lifestyle, you should discuss with your doctor and verify if you are using the correct procedure to check your blood pressure.

  • Do not measure soon after eating, smoking, drinking alcohol, or exercising.
  • Using a loose or tight cuff for measurement may give false results.
  • Being stressed, fidgety, and improperly placing your arm may affect the reading as well. 

References

[1]. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm

[2]. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure/low-blood-pressure-when-blood-pressure-is-too-low

[3]. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hypertension
[4]. Bazzano LA, Green T, Harrison TN, Reynolds K. Dietary approaches to prevent hypertension. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2013;15(6):694-702. doi:10.1007/s11906-013-0390-z https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4366416/

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