Measuring your blood pressure is an important indicator of your overall health. It is one of several vital statistics that doctors use to evaluate your health. These numbers can fluctuate based on various factors, so it is important to keep your regular appointments and discuss any symptoms you have been having with your doctor. Although most people worry about their systolic pressure being too high, there are significant health risks when you have high diastolic blood pressure. While not common, it can be too low as well.
What is Diastolic Pressure?
When you get your blood pressure checked, you will be given two numbers, such as 120 over 80. The top number is your systolic pressure and the bottom number is your diastolic pressure.
The diastolic pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart is at rest in between beats. This is an important time for your heart, as it gives it a chance to fill up with blood and receive oxygen. If your heart is not able to relax fast enough, you have diastolic dysfunction.
For many years, doctors focused almost exclusively on the top number, or systolic pressure. In 2019, a study of 1.3 million adults showed a different picture. This study showed that both numbers were important in determining the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The Risks of Low or High Diastolic Blood Pressure
A normal diastolic pressure is between 60 and 80. If your number falls between this range, there is no cause for worry. However, there is danger in that number dropping below 60 or rising above 80. Most doctors and patients are concerned with high blood pressure, and rightly so, as high blood pressure affects millions of Americans. However, low blood pressure also presents a host of problems, especially if your diastolic pressure is low.
During the diastolic phase of your heart, your coronary arteries are fed. A low diastolic pressure means you have low pressure in your coronary arteries. These arteries are responsible for getting blood and oxygen to your heart. A lack or decrease of blood flow to your heart is called ischemia. Chronic, low-level ischemia weakens the heart over time and can lead to heart failure. Diastolic heart failure happens because the heart cannot relax when it’s supposed to. Doctors and researchers have now realized that this is a very common problem and are looking for ways to treat it.
A high diastolic pressure also brings risks, but of a different kind. A study of one million patients done in England showed that a high diastolic number brings a risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is a weakened section in the body’s main artery that travels through your abdomen. If this weakened section bursts, it can cause severe internal bleeding and death.
Fortunately, medications used to lower high systolic pressure also work to lower high diastolic pressure. Whether your top number or bottom number is high, it will be treated the same.
What is Isolated Diastolic Hypertension?
Doctors used to not be concerned if your diastolic pressure was high, as long as the systolic pressure was normal, However, numerous studies have shown that you are at a significantly higher risk for cardiac trouble and strokes if your diastolic pressure is elevated. Now, doctors look at both numbers to evaluate your heart health.
A slight increase in your diastolic pressure, such as a reading of 95, may not be concerning if you have no underlying health conditions. If you do have other risk factors, such as obesity or diabetes, then any elevation of that bottom number puts you at higher risk. With no risk factors, regular monitoring of your blood pressure, as well as making healthy changes to your diet and exercise routines, maybe all you need to do to keep that number from rising.
Researchers have found that isolated diastolic hypertension often leads to elevated systolic pressure. When both numbers are high, you officially have hypertension and must work with your doctor to lower those numbers.
Risk Factors for High Diastolic Pressure
If you are in otherwise good health, your doctor may not immediately worry about an elevated diastolic pressure. It should be monitored, as it does put you at risk for problems down the road. But a few isolated cases of raised diastolic pressure may not warrant any treatment. There are additional factors, though, that put you at higher risk for cardiovascular problems. These factors include:
• Kidney disease
• History of smoking
• Atherosclerosis (hardening of your arteries)
• History of heart disease
• Previous heart attacks
If you have any of these risk factors and high diastolic blood pressure, talk to your doctor about ways to lower that number.
Treatment for High Diastolic Blood Pressure
Medications used to lower high blood pressure work on both numbers. So even if you have an elevated diastolic pressure and your systolic pressure is normal, blood pressure medications will work to reduce that number. Before prescribing a medication, however, your doctor may recommend that you try to make some lifestyle changes to naturally bring that number down. These changes may include:
• Follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet
• Limit saturated and trans fats, sodium, and salt
• Limit caffeine
• Reduce alcohol intake
• Eat dark chocolate
• Lose weight, especially around your waist
• Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
• Work on ways to reduce stress in your life
• Monitor your blood pressure at home to watch for changes
If these measures are not helping, talk to your doctor about starting medication. There are many different medications available for high blood pressure, so it may take a few trial runs to find the one that works best for you. While you are figuring out which medication works, continue to implement these lifestyle changes for the best results.
When to See a Doctor for High Diastolic Blood Pressure
An occasional abnormal blood pressure reading, taken at home, is not generally a cause for worry. Many factors affect your blood pressure. If you have an abnormally high or low reading, change positions, wait a while, and take it again. If you start to see a trend of increasing or decreasing numbers, give your doctor a call.
Most people don’t monitor their blood pressure at home unless they are already aware that they have a problem. Unfortunately, there aren’t many symptoms for high diastolic blood pressure, which is why hypertension is often called the silent disease. If you have shortness of breath or pressure in your chest, seek immediate medical help. Otherwise, make sure you have yearly check-ups with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure and other health issues.