What You Need to Know About High Blood Pressure

What to Know About High Blood Pressure

Blood courses through the veins and arteries, bringing nutrients and oxygen to your organs. Every time your heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes the blood through the vessels.

Blood pressure consists of two forces, systolic pressure, or pressure on the blood as it flows into the arteries and away from the heart, and diastolic pressure, created when the heart rests between beats.

Over time, damage to the blood vessels can lead to an increase in blood pressure. When the pressure is over a certain amount, it's known as high blood pressure. The increase in pressure causes further damage to the arteries and blood vessels, increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Knowing your risk for high blood pressure can help you take steps to prevent or treat it.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure levels change throughout the day, but if it stays elevated for an extended period, it can cause significant damage. When your doctor takes a blood pressure reading, they measure the systolic and diastolic pressures, giving them two numbers.

The systolic pressure is the higher number and the diastolic the lower number. A systolic pressure under 120 is considered normal while a reading between 120 and 129 is elevated. When your systolic pressure is over 130, it's considered high.1

A diastolic pressure under 80 is considered normal. Diastolic pressure over 80 is high.1

High blood pressure is often called a silent killer since it usually has no symptoms. The only way to know your blood pressure is to have your physician take it or use a blood pressure monitor at home.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

A mix of factors can cause high blood pressure. Some factors are within your control, and some aren't. For example, you may be genetically predisposed to have elevated pressure if you have a family history of high blood pressure.

Pregnant people can also develop high blood pressure, even if they had normal levels before pregnancy. In certain cases, high blood pressure during pregnancy can be dangerous for the pregnant person and the baby.2

Factors that can cause high blood pressure that you can control include:

● Smoking

● Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol

● Eating a high-salt diet

● Not being physically active

Reducing your salt intake, quitting smoking, increasing physical activity and drinking in moderation (no more than two drinks a day) can all help to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

Why Should You Care About Your Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure makes your heart and blood vessels work harder, increasing wear and tear. Over time, the vessels become narrower, so the blood doesn't flow through them as easily as before. The blood vessels become weaker and can be more likely to burst.

The damage caused by high blood pressure can lead to several serious illnesses and conditions, including:

● Stroke

● Heart attack

● Vision loss

● Kidney disease

● Heart failure

Can You Prevent High Blood Pressure?

If you are concerned about developing high blood pressure or your family doctor has mentioned that your blood pressure readings have been high, you can make lifestyle changes to lower or prevent high blood pressure.

The first steps to take are often to make dietary changes and increase your physical activity. Reducing salt and alcohol intake can help improve your blood pressure, as can eating more vegetables and fruits. Your doctor may recommend the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) plan to help lower your blood pressure.

If you're not physically active, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate daily activity, such as taking a brisk walk.

Quitting smoking and getting at least eight hours of sleep a night can also help you prevent high blood pressure.

What Are Your Treatment Options for High Blood Pressure?

If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, multiple treatments are available to help you get your numbers under control. Your doctor might prescribe a blood pressure-lowering medication along with recommending lifestyle changes.

Getting other chronic conditions under control, such as diabetes, can also help you manage your blood pressure.

Your treatment needs may change, so it's important to continue seeing your physician regularly and monitor your blood pressure at home and the doctor's office.

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1. The Facts About High Blood Pressure, American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure

2. High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy, Medline Plus, https://medlineplus.gov/highbloodpressureinpregnancy.html

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