The heart pumps blood through vessels to bring oxygen and nutrients to the body. Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the vessel walls; blood pressure is needed to move the blood through the body. Blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day, but when it goes up and stays high, then it is high blood pressure. Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure; it doesn’t refer to a person being tense, nervous or hyperactive. A person can be calm and relaxed and still have high blood pressure.
You should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year by your healthcare provider. An easy test measures blood pressure, and it does not hurt. It uses an inflatable cuff around the arm. The test gives two numbers, for example 120/80. The systolic pressure, the first number, 120, is the pressure of the blood in the vessels as the heart beats. The diastolic pressure, the second number, 80, is the pressure of the blood between heartbeats. Your blood pressure is high if you have a reading of 140/90 or higher on two separate occasions. It is best to have a blood pressure reading of 120/80 or less. If you have high blood pressure, it means that your heart has to pump harder than it should to get blood to all parts of your body.
High blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney problems and blindness. High blood pressure is also known as the “silent killer” because it may have no symptoms; you can have it without feeling sick.
Several factors can contribute to high blood pressure including: family history, increasing age, being overweight, having diabetes, not being active, and heavy alcohol consumption. Family history and increasing age are factors that you can’t control, but you can manage the other factors to prevent or control high blood pressure.
The good news is that high blood pressure can be prevented and controlled. If you do not have high blood pressure, you can help prevent it by adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle behaviors and aim for a healthy weight, be active everyday, use less salt and sodium in cooking, eat a healthy diet with at least five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday, and limit the amount of alcohol that you drink. Women should not have more than one alcoholic drink per day. Men should not have more than two alcoholic drinks per day.
If a doctor has told you that you have high blood pressure, you should practice all of the steps described and if prescribed, take your medicine the way your doctor tells you to. If medication is prescribed, ask your doctor to write down the information that you need to know. Be sure that you understand why and how to take your medicine before you leave the doctor’s office.
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