When you hear about blood pressure, you may automatically think about high blood pressure. That’s because high blood pressure is a condition that can cause many health problems, including heart attacks and strokes. Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent high blood pressure. First, it may help to understand what’s a normal blood pressure — and what to watch out for when your blood pressure is higher than normal. It’s even more important to go to the doctor and get your blood pressure checked regularly. Early detection can make all the difference in managing your blood pressure over time and prevent damage to the circulation and organs in your body. Let’s learn more about blood pressure, how it works and how to stay on top of it.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.1 Blood pressure levels may fluctuate in response to the needs of your body and to internal and external factors. The blood pressure is measured using 2 numbers:
- Systolic pressure (the top number): Measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps the blood out into the circulation.
- Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): Measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
What is normal blood pressure?
Typically, a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) or less — read as “120 over 80.” There are several blood pressure categories, ranging from normal to hypertensive crisis. Talk to your doctor to learn more about your personal health numbers.
What is high blood pressure?
If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), that means your blood is pumping against your arteries at a high enough force to cause damage. That means your systolic and diastolic numbers are elevated higher than 120 over 80.
What causes high blood pressure?
There are 2 types of high blood pressure — primary and secondary — and their causes are different.
Primary high blood pressure (also called primary or essential hypertension) is the most common type. About 95% of the population is diagnosed with this type of high blood pressure. In this case, high blood pressure develops over time and there may be no specific cause identified. However, primary hypertension may be linked to the following factors:
- Genetics and family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families. Being aware of your family medical history is important for understanding your potential risk.
- Older age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. High blood pressure is more common in men, but women are more likely to develop high blood pressure once they turn 65. In this scenario, it is more common to see an elevation of the top number (systolic blood pressure)
- Lifestyle and diet. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, factors such as high salt intake, obesity, diabetes or stress may trigger hypertension.2
Secondary high blood pressure (also called secondary hypertension) may be due to specific reasons such as kidney problems, certain type of tumors, hormonal imbalances, aorta malformation, sleep apnea or medication side effects. When high blood pressure is detected by your doctor, they usually look for secondary reasons in case they can be corrected.
What are some tips to help prevent and control high blood pressure?
It’s a good idea to form heart-healthy habits to help protect yourself against high blood pressure. Consider these lifestyle habits to help prevent and control high blood pressure.
Avoid high salt intake which is known to cause high blood pressure. Focus on foods that lower blood pressure. Check out the DASH eating plan or other nutrition tips that may help with healthier eating and controlling blood pressure.
This makes it easier on your heart and arteries to pump blood through your whole body. Increased weight puts more pressure on your heart to pump the blood out and can cause sleep apnea (lack of oxygen during sleep) which is known to cause high blood pressure.
Quit smoking, is an important step, if you currently do. And try to stay away from areas where you’re exposed to secondhand smoke.
Consider some stress-relief strategies, like yoga, meditation, acupuncture or reading. And avoid your stress triggers as much as possible. Exercise also releases endorphins which are generated in your brain and help relieve stress.
For example, if you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control to help reduce your risk when high blood pressure coexists with diabetes. Keep your cholesterol under control. The combination of high blood pressure and high cholesterol further increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Remember, early detection can make all the difference. Check in with your doctor regularly to get your blood pressure checked — and consider asking your doctor about a home blood pressure monitor. Regular checks with your doctor are also important to evaluate other organs that may be affected by high blood pressure like your kidneys.
In many cases, losing weight, exercising, relieving stress, and avoiding excessive salt intake is enough to control your blood pressure without the need for medications. If you are already taking medications for blood pressure, do not stop medications unless advised by your doctor
When to see your doctor about high blood pressure
If you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about your blood pressure. They can check for risk factors and offer ways to keep your blood pressure at a normal level. They may also recommend lifestyle changes or medication, in addition to healthy lifestyle habits. Be sure to talk through any possible side effects of the medications and decide if you’re comfortable taking it.
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