Blood is carried from the heart to the rest of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. Two numbers are measured when checking the blood pressure. The first (systolic pressure) measures the pressure in arteries when the heart is contracting. The second (diastolic pressure) measures the pressure while your heart rests between beats.
High blood pressure does not mean that you are tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm and relaxed person and still have high blood pressure. You usually cannot tell if you have it! The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly.
In an adult the normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). You have prehypertension if the top number (systolic) is 120-139 OR your bottom number (diastolic) is 80-89. High blood pressure (hypertension) means that the top number is 140 or higher OR the bottom number is 90 or higher. If you have hypertension your blood pressure should be lowered to less than 130/80.
In 90 to 95 percent of high blood pressure cases, the cause is unknown. In fact, you can have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. That is why it is the silent stalker - it creeps up on you. In a few cases high blood pressure is caused by an underlying problem such as a kidney abnormality, tumor of the adrenal gland (a gland near your kidney) or a congenital heart defect (a structural abnormality of the heart existing since birth).
High blood pressure adds to your heart's workload and damages your arteries and organs over time. By the time you know you have it, the damage may have already started. Compared to people whose blood pressure is normal, people with high blood pressure may be more likely to have a stroke, more likely to develop congestive heart failure, and more likely to develop coronary heart disease (which leads to a heart attack). High blood pressure can also cause kidney disease and blindness.
There is only one way to find out if your blood pressure is high: Get it checked! If your blood pressure is normal, get it checked at least every two years. If you have prehypertension (your top number is 120 - 139 OR your bottom number is 80 - 90) you should get it rechecked within one year. If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you are at a higher risk. Your doctor will tell you how often to have it checked.
A high blood pressure test is quick and painless. You can have it done in a doctor's office, hospital clinic, school, nurse's office, company clinic or at a health fair. Many devices are available for monitoring your blood pressure at home. It is important to keep a record of your blood pressure to show to your doctor.
It is important to have your blood pressure checked and treated if it is too high. Stroke is a leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. It is a devastating disease. That is why it's so important to minimize your risk.