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What causes high diastolic blood pressure?

December 8, 2023
4 minutes
Personal Health
Chronic conditions

When you go to the doctor and get your blood pressure measured, the nurse reads back a number like this: 120/80. Most people don’t think twice about what that number means, but what happens if a measurement starts to creep up? For most patients with hypertension, both numbers will increase, but sometimes, just one. If only the bottom number starts to go up, you’re dealing with high diastolic blood pressure. Here’s a closer look at what causes high diastolic blood pressure and how you can treat this rare condition.

What is diastolic blood pressure?

When doctors measure blood pressure, they measure systolic and diastolic. The systolic number is listed on top of the diastolic number. Diastolic measures the pressure in your blood vessels in the period between your heartbeats. In contrast, systolic measures the pressure when the heart muscle contracts.

What causes diastolic blood pressure to increase?

Currently, any reading above 80 millimeters of mercury for diastolic blood pressure is considered high as long as the systolic blood pressure is within normal parameters. So what causes this level to increase?

General hypertension, which is elevated levels for both types of blood pressure, often occurs due to lifestyle factors. Someone who eats a diet high in fat and salt or someone who is living with obesity may have high blood pressure. However, high diastolic blood pressure is rare, affecting only about 20% of patients with high blood pressure. It may be caused by endocrine disorders, renovascular disorders, and even sleep apnea, in addition to the factors that can cause overall high blood pressure. Sometimes, stress and anxiety or excessive alcohol consumption can also cause it, and some medications, including atypical antipsychotics and amphetamines, can cause it. In many cases, however, doctors aren’t sure why a person develops high diastolic blood pressure. If you’re concerned about these potential causes, always consult with your doctor, and don’t change your medication without a doctor’s oversight.

Dangers of high diastolic blood pressure

High diastolic blood pressure may be rare, but it’s still an important thing to note because diastolic blood pressure is an important indication of cardiovascular health. Since this number measures the blood pressure between heartbeats, a high level may mean less effective delivery of oxygen to the heart's muscles. This, in turn, can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

The risk is fairly high, too. According to Medical News Today, an increase of 10 millimeters of mercury for this measure doubles an adult’s risk of heart disease or stroke, as well as some additional health concerns. This risk appears once someone reaches age 40, and high diastolic blood pressure doesn’t have the same impact on younger individuals.

Specifically, increased diastolic blood pressure increases your risk of having:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Vision loss
  • Aneurysm
  • Atrial fibrillation

Symptoms and diagnosis

High blood pressure of any kind rarely has symptoms. That’s why it’s sometimes called the “silent killer.” When blood pressure levels are severe, it may lead to headaches, anxiety, nosebleeds, and nervousness. An irregular heartbeat or vision problems may also occur.

Because symptoms typically don’t develop until the disease has progressed quite far and levels are extremely high, most people get diagnosed at a routine medical examination or when they’re being seen for something else. Doctors typically take blood pressure at every appointment, noting elevated levels. Occasionally, elevated diastolic blood pressure may not be a cause for alarm, but if it’s staying elevated regularly, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about how to best manage it.

Improve your blood pressure with treatments and lifestyle modifications

Managing your blood pressure, including your diastolic blood pressure, is an important part of keeping your heart healthy. The first line of defense for mildly elevated blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health may be lifestyle modifications. If lifestyle modifications aren’t sufficient, or if the diastolic blood pressure level is extremely high, your doctor may choose to use medications to treat it.

Increased exercise

First, consider adding more exercise to your routine. You can exercise safely with high blood pressure using a few modifications. Always check with your doctor, but getting more activity may help lower your blood pressure over time.

Increased water intake

Another way to manage blood pressure through lifestyle changes is by increasing your water intake. Drink the appropriate amount for your gender and age, and consider increasing it slightly if necessary to improve your health. Staying hydrated supports good heart health, and that includes improving blood pressure levels.

Balanced diet with less salt and alcohol

Managing your diet may also have a positive effect on diastolic blood pressure levels. Reducing alcohol consumption, limiting salt intake, and focusing on eating a balanced diet all play a role in keeping blood pressure levels in check. You can use tools like Evidation and your favorite fitness tracker and food tracking apps to monitor how well you’re doing to reach these goals.

Home monitoring of blood pressure

Monitoring your blood pressure levels at home will also be helpful. This shows you if the lifestyle modifications are working and will also help you know if you need further medical intervention.

Medication treatment options

Because high diastolic blood pressure is rare, most patients will need to get some medical oversight. If your systolic blood pressure is normal, but your diastolic is high, your doctor may want to proceed with caution. Medical News Today warns that treating high diastolic blood pressure with medication, particularly if the patient is young, can increase the risk of heart problems.

That said, if levels get high enough, doctors will recommend medication. Some options include:

  • Diuretics
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers
  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • Calcium channel blockers

Adding medication will mean an increased level of monitoring from your doctor. Sometimes, medications need adjustment until the ideal blood pressure level is reached.

Monitor your health goals with Evidation

If you’re struggling with your diastolic blood pressure, you’ll want to take a multifaceted approach to managing it. Tracking your health will be part of this. Evidation can add motivation to help you take charge of your health by rewarding you for making better health choices. Start tracking your health with Evidation today.

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