A patient’s blood pressure is an important indicator of their health. When blood pressure gets too high, it can be a symptom of an underlying condition and can put a patient at risk of suffering from a more serious condition in the future. In fact, high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of death in North America.
As a medical assistant or nursing assistant, checking patients’ blood pressure can be an everyday task. You may be required to monitor people’s blood pressure as you make your rounds in a hospital setting. Or you may be given the job of recording blood pressure levels at the beginning of routine checkups in a doctor’s office. That means it is vital for nursing assistants, medical assistants, and other medical personnel to have a solid understanding of what blood pressure is, what healthy levels are, and how high blood pressure can affect patients’ health. Since May is National High Blood Pressure Education Month, now is a great time to become more familiar with this important aspect of life.
High vs Low Blood Pressure
When blood pressure becomes too high or low, it can cause health complications. Low blood pressure, or hypotension, can often cause dizziness, fatigue and confusion. Additionally, low blood pressure can lead to injury when it causes individuals to fall or faint. This condition can also cause the body to go into shock.
High blood pressure, hypertension, is often cause for more concern, as it can cause permanent damage to the arteries and lead to serious conditions. When blood pressure becomes too high, it can put extra strain on the arteries throughout the body as well as on the heart. Over time, this added pressure can make the arteries thicken and lose their flexibility. When arteries become too thick, there is less space for blood to flow through. This makes them far more likely to experience clotting, which can cause heart attacks, kidney disease, dementia, or strokes.
What Do Blood Pressure Levels Mean?
Blood pressure comes from two separate forces: The systolic pressure, which occurs when blood pumps out of the heart, and the diastolic pressure, which occurs when the heart rests between beats. These two forces are represented by the two numbers seen on blood pressure readings. Both of these numbers are important to look at when taking your blood pressure. A healthy blood pressure reading is anywhere between 90/60 and 120/80. If the reading is below 90/60, it is a sign of low blood pressure. While low blood pressure may seem harmless, it can cause dizziness, fainting and increase people’s risk of injury if lowered too much.
When blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90, it is still considered “normal” but not ideal. People who have blood pressure in this range can typically make slight lifestyle changes to lower their blood pressure. High blood pressure is classified as 140/90 or above. Individuals in this range typically need to make serious lifestyle changes and also take prescription medications to get back to a healthy range and avoid negative effects of hypertension.
The Importance of Blood Pressure Education
As a nursing assistant, encouraging your patients to get their blood pressure checked regularly to ensure it is within the healthy range is crucial. Many people with high blood pressure exhibit no symptoms and are not aware they have the condition. In fact, approximately 11 million people in the U.S. are living with hypertension and are not receiving treatment because they believe they are fine. This is why high blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer.”
Additionally, it is not only middle-aged and elderly adults who suffer from high blood pressure. Children and teenagers can develop the condition as well. Other people who are at an increased risk include women and African Americans.
As a nursing or medical assistant, checking patients’ blood pressure is an important part of ensuring their overall health is intact. When a patient is experiencing high or low blood pressure, it is also important for you to take the time to explain to them what all this could mean. If the blood pressure abnormality is being caused by lifestyle choices, simple adjustments may correct the problem. However, because low or high blood pressure readings can also be a sign of another, more severe condition, it is important to notify the patient’s doctor to rule out any other causes.