Your total blood pressure reading is determined by measuring your systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Systolic blood pressure, the top number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries each time it beats. Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, measures the force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries in between beats.
What is a normal blood pressure varies by age and sex. A normal blood pressure for a 65 year old man is 143/76 while the normal pressure for a 65 year old woman is 130/77.
What happens when you have untreated and prolonged high blood pressure (called hypertension)? Bad things!
An example of what kind of bad things is presented by a recent medical malpractice case in Virginia. The plaintiff (in his 60’s) was a patient of the defendant primary care physician for approximately 20 years, and had consistently elevated blood pressures. Plaintiff’s hypertension went untreated for over 3 years as the defendant never diagnosed his patient with hypertension and never treated him for hypertension. Plaintiff’s medical history and risk factors for both coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular disease, included obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, uncontrolled hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and chronic stress.
A subsequent treating doctor (a gastroenterologist) noted the plaintiff’s elevated blood pressure (203/87) and called the defendant primary care physician to alert him to his patient’s condition. The primary care physician told his patient to monitor his blood pressure at home and failed to prescribe any medication to lower his pressures. What happened? The patient/plaintiff continued to monitor his elevated blood pressures for several days, without any treatment, and was subsequently transported to a local emergency room where he was discovered to be neurologically impaired. His blood pressure upon arrival at the ED was 206/92. He was diagnosed with suffering from an acute ischemic stroke resulting in right hemiparesis (weakness or the inability to move on one side of the body). To this date, the plaintiff continues to suffer from permanent neurologic impairment because of the stroke he suffered caused by his uncontrolled hypertension. He continues to experience dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, loss of sensation, slurred speech, diminution in memory, and impaired strength, gait and coordination.
The case was resolved in the patient’s favor but no amount of money can give him the quality of life he had prior to his avoidable stroke.
My Take: If you have consistently elevated blood pressure, see you doctor and demand treatment. If the doctor is unwilling, go find another (competent) doctor.