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Blood pressure is the result of two forces:  from the heart as it pumps blood into the arteries and throughout the circulatory system, and the force of the arteries as they resist blood flow.

Elevated blood pressure is harmful to the body because it causes the heart to work harder than normal, leaving both the heart and arteries more prone to injury.  High blood pressure also increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, damage to the eyes, kidney failure, atherosclerosis and congestive heart failure.  High blood pressure combined with other risks, such as obesity, smoking, high blood cholesterol or diabetes greatly increases the risk for heart attack or stroke. 

When high blood pressure persists without treatment, the heart must work harder to pump enough blood and oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.  When the heart is over-worked for extended periods of time, the heart tends to enlarge and weaken.  Arteries also suffer from elevated blood pressure, becoming scarred, hardened and less elastic over time.

The “Silent Killer”

High blood pressure is often termed “the Silent Killer” because it usually has no symptoms.  Many people have high blood pressure for many years without knowing about it.  The only way to find out if your blood pressure is elevated is to have your blood pressure checked. 

Blood Pressure Readings

When you have your blood pressure taken, what do the numbers mean?  The higher number, or systolic pressure, represents the pressure exerted when the heart is beating.  The lower number, or diastolic pressure, represents the pressure exerted when the heart is at rest between beats.  The systolic pressure is always stated first.  For example, a blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 (120/80) would mean that your systolic pressure is 122 mm Hg and your diastolic pressure is 80 mm Hg.  (Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg).

Recommendations

High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as an adult having a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher and/or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher. 

Blood Pressure

Optimal

Normal

High Normal

Hypertension

Systolic

Less than 120

Less than 130

130-139

140 or higher

Diastolic

Less than 80

Less than 85

85-89

90 or higher

 

Causes of High Blood Pressure

The cause of high blood pressure is largely unknown, although there are certain risk factors that increase an individual’s chance for developing high blood pressure:

  • Heredity
  • Race (African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure)
  • Males (men have a greater chance of developing high blood pressure than women until age 55.  However, at over the age of 75, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure than men). 
  • Sodium sensitivity (salt)
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetics or individuals with gout or kidney disease
  • Heredity (individuals whose parents had/have high blood pressure are more at risk)
  • Age (the older people get, the more prone to high blood pressure)
  • Some medications (always tell your doctor about every medication you are taking – some medications increase blood pressure, others may interfere with the effectiveness of antihypertensive drugs)

Treating High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, there is a great deal you can do to reduce it.  You and your doctor can determine the most effective treatment for you.  Treatment may include a low-fat, low-salt diet, losing weight, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, and getting more exercise.  In addition, many medications can be used to reduce and control your high blood pressure.  With effective monitoring and treatment, you can help control your blood pressure and reduce your risk of stroke, kidney and heart failure and heart attack.

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The American Heart AssociationFor More Information

Contact the American Heart Association

 

 

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