Watching a nurse pump air into that Velcro strap around one's arm is all too familiar for many. Some even check their own blood pressure using a self-monitoring device at home or in a pharmacy.
But what do the numbers mean? Regardless of how your blood pressure is taken, the measurement and meaning of the numbers are essentially the same. It's important to understand the numbers and how they can affect the price of life insurance premiums.
Getting a reading
A cuff is placed around the upper arm and inflated to occlude, or temporarily block, the brachial artery. This increases the blood pressure in the artery to above normal. When the cuff is slowly deflated, the health care worker or the blood pressure device itself listens or feels as the blood flow is reestablished.
The first sound, described as a click, is recorded as your systolic pressure and is the number listed on the top of the blood pressure equation. This reading measures the blood pressure during the contraction of the heart, when the blood is being pumped into the arteries.
When the tapping sound can no longer be heard or felt by the practitioner or the equipment, the diastolic reading is recorded. The diastolic reading is the bottom number of the equation. This reading measures the blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats and the chambers have been refilled with blood.
Interpreting the numbers
A normal systolic pressure reading is 140. A normal diastolic reading is 90. The result looks like this: 140/90. When results are found to be persistently above 140/90, a patient is diagnosed with hypertension--otherwise known as high blood pressure.
Hypertension can be caused by several issues. Essential or "primary" hypertension is the most common type and accounts for 95 percent of diagnosed cases. A diagnosis of essential hypertension actually means that the cause of the hypertension cannot be determined. Family medical history, temperament and stress levels vary greatly in individuals. Some individuals are more sensitive and respond with an increase in blood pressure to these and other stimuli.
Malignant hypertension accounts for the other 5 percent of diagnosed cases. Malignant hypertension is the secondary result of other medical problems with vital organs such as the brain, liver and kidneys. Your health care provider can determine which type of hypertension is the culprit and treat the blood pressure accordingly.
Know the risks
It is important to keep blood pressure below 140/90 and consistently controlled. Here's why" When pressure elevates the arteries within the brain, heart and kidneys; these and other organs may become damaged due to the added stress within the artery itself. The heart may actually begin to enlarge and heart valves become deformed due to the stress of the increased blood pressure. Damaged vessels are more likely to break or become blocked, causing an aneurysm, stroke or heart attack.
Because an increase in blood pressure often can occur without any physical symptoms, some people walk around with undiagnosed hypertension for years. Sometimes the problem is first discovered during a routine medical exam while applying for life insurance.
Know the rates
Many clients can be a little nervous during exams, which can create an increase in pressure. But, the industry does not begin to increase mortality rates at the 140/90 guideline used by the medical community. However, a blood pressure of more than 140/90 will typically limit clients under age 60 to standard rates.
When a client is determined to have a history of high blood pressure and is being treated with medication, but readings still indicate non-control, a case may be limited to standard rates, table rated in order to obtain a higher premium for the exposure, or even postponed.
Mild increases in blood pressure are a normal part of the aging process and a life insurance carrier typically allows for these by creating a rating structure according to age. Due to the long-term risks associated with hypertension, premium rates will always increase along with blood pressure readings.
Knowing and monitoring blood pressure is the best way to control hypertension and this aspect of insurance premiums. For many, a healthy diet and regular exercise will keep the numbers where they need to be. Health care providers can help people get on the right track through lifestyle changes or medication.
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