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Why Your Blood Pressure Matters

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood against the inside walls of blood vessels as it flows. Blood travels through these vessels carrying oxygen, vitamins, and essential nutrients to all parts of the body. High blood pressure can eventually damage your heart, blood vessels, and other parts of your body.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is commonly referred to as the “silent killer.” It occurs when there is a narrowing or constriction of blood vessels, which prevents blood from flowing as freely as it should. Most of the time the cause is unknown. Other times, high blood pressure is a symptom of an underlying problem, such as a tumor or kidney disease. When the underlying problem is corrected, blood pressure usually returns to normal.

What’s bad about high blood pressure?

High blood pressure causes the heart to work harder than normal. This means both the heart and blood vessels are more prone to damage. It increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney and heart failure, damage to the eyes, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). 

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it because there are often no symptoms until damage is done. A single high reading does not mean you have high blood pressure, but it is a sign that it should be watched more closely. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure and what it means for you. 

If you do have high blood pressure, be sure to:

  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Stay on your medication.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes.

What do the numbers mean?

The top number, called the systolic number, is the pressure measured when the heart beats. The bottom number, or diastolic number, is the pressure measured when the heart rests between beats. According to the American Heart Association, a normal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80, or less than 120 mmHg and less than 80 mmHg.

Less than 120 and less than 80

120-129 and less than 80  

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Stage 1     
130-139 or 80-89

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Stage 2  
140 or higher or 90 or higher 

Hypertensive Crisis (consult your doctor immediately) 
Higher than 180 and/or higher than 120

What are some risk factors for high blood pressure?

These are risk factors that you’re not able to change:

  • Family history 
  • Race – African-Americans are more at risk than Caucasians
  • Sex – Men are more at risk than women until age 55, when their respective risks are similar. At age 75 and older, women are more at risk than men.
  • Age – Blood pressure tends to increase with age.
  • Sensitivity to sodium (salt) – Use of salt will raise blood pressure in 1 out of 6 people.
  • Sensitivity to coffee and caffeine 

These are the six major risk factors of high blood pressure and heart disease that you can change or control: 

  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Being overweight or obese 
  • Smoking
  • Being stressed
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Drinking too much alcohol 

What can I do to prevent high blood pressure?

These six steps can help:

  1. Eat a balanced diet, being aware of sodium (salt) intake.
  2. Exercise regularly.
  3. Limit caffeine.
  4. Manage stress.
  5. Quit smoking.
  6. Drink alcohol in moderation. 

If you'd like to learn more about high blood pressure, be sure to visit these sites:

Source: American Heart Association; The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure