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High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension)

Almost half of the American adult population suffers from high blood pressure. Left untreated, it can lead to numerous health conditions, heart attack or stroke. That's why it's important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your healthcare provider.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). High blood pressure means the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. Another name for high blood pressure is hypertension.

Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 112/78 mm Hg. The top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic) is the pressure when the heart rests between beats.

Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. If you’re an adult and your systolic pressure is 120 to 129, and your diastolic pressure is less than 80, you have elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure is a pressure of 130 systolic or higher, or 80 diastolic or higher, that stays high over time.

Nearly half of the American population older than 20 has high blood pressure, and many don’t even know it. Not treating high blood pressure is dangerous because it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms. That’s why it is so dangerous. But it can be managed.

Factors that cannot be modified or are difficult to control are:

  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Increasing age
  • Gender (males)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Socioeconomic status and psychosocial stress are also risk factors for high blood pressure. These can affect access to basic living necessities, medication, healthcare providers, and the ability to adopt lifestyle changes.

How can I tell I have it?

The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked regularly by your healthcare provider.

For proper diagnosis of high blood pressure, your healthcare provider will use an average based on two or more readings obtained on two or more occasions.

What can I do about high blood pressure?

  • Don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Aim to consume less than 1,500 mg/day of sodium (salt). Even reducing your daily intake by 1,000 mg can help.
  • Eat foods rich in potassium. Aim for 3,500 – 5,000 mg of dietary potassium per day.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day of you’re a man.
  • Be physically active. Aim for at least 90 to 150 minutes of aerobic and/or dynamic resistance exercise per week, and/or three sessions of isometric resistance exercises per week.
  • Take medicine the way your doctor tells you.
  • Know what your blood pressure should be, and work to keep it at that level.
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