Consistently high blood pressure is an infamous warning sign for future heart problems, but the newest study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute shows that frequently fluctuating blood pressure values are just as dangerous.
In a review of the electronic medical records of nearly eleven thousand patients, researchers analyzed systolic blood pressure numbers. Systolic blood pressure is the “120” in the usually recommended blood pressure value 120/80, with 80 being the diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is a measure of how much pressure blood is putting on the artery walls during each heartbeat. A diagnosis of “high blood pressure” is given when systolic blood pressure is 140 or greater.
After following up with patients after an average of five years, researchers collected records of all causes of mortality.
Researchers saw that patients whose systolic blood pressure varied by 30 or 40 between doctor visits were - over time - more likely to die than people with less variation in blood pressure. In this way, the risk from huge variances in systolic blood pressure was akin to that of consistently high blood pressure.
“If you allow your blood pressure to be uncontrolled for any period of time, or notice big changes in your blood pressure between doctor visits, you increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney or heart failure, or even death,” explained lead investigator Brian Clements, DO.
Clements says continuous monitoring of blood pressure is key. "Eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and if your doctor has prescribed you medications for your blood pressure, be sure and take them consistently,” he said. “Because any time your blood pressure is out of control, you're at higher risk of injury or death."
There are many reasons that blood pressure increases to an unhealthy level. Arterial stiffness, plaque build-up over time, and existing cardiovascular diseases all contribute toward high blood pressure. Additionally, lifestyle choices such as diet, alcohol consumption, and sedentary habits make things worse.
Factors affecting fluctuating blood pressure levels are similar, but also include stress, drug habits, tobacco use, and certain conditions like diabetes, dehydration, cardiovascular disease, obstructive sleep apnea, and kidney disease.