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High Blood Pressure 

 

What is high blood pressure (hypertension)? 

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.

What causes high blood pressure? 

In most cases, it is impossible to pinpoint an exact cause of high blood pressure.

Some groups, however, are at higher risk.

Your risk of high blood pressure is higher if:

  • Someone in your family has high blood pressure
  • You are a man over the age of 45
  • You are a woman over the age of 55
  • You are African-American

 

  • Your blood pressure reading is in the pre-hypertension range (120 - 139/80 - 90)
  • You take birth control pills
  • You are pregnant
  • You smoke
 
Other things that can increase
high blood pressure include:

How does high blood pressure
increase stroke risk?

 
  • Being overweight
  • Eating too much salt
  • Not eating enough potassium
  • Not exercising
  • Having diabetes
  • Drinking too much alcohol

Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases a person's stroke risk by 4 to 6 times. It may:

  • Thicken the artery walls, causing cholesterol or other fat-like substances called plaque to build up. The plaque buildup can then break off of the artery walls, causing a clot and blocking blood flow to the brain. This may cause a type of stroke called an ischemic stroke.
  • Weaken the artery walls, leading blood vessels to break and bleed into the brain, causing what is called a hemorrhagic stroke.
 
  How can high blood pressure be treated?

In most people, high blood pressure can be controlled through healthy habits or taking medicines - or a combination of both. You need to know what your blood pressure should be and keep it at that level.

Talk to your doctor about healthier choices that can reduce your blood pressure:

  • Enjoy a low-salt diet
  • Eat enough fruit and vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Enjoy regular physical activity
  • Limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day if you're a man and one drink a day if you're a woman. Check with your doctor regarding alcohol consumption

For some people, these lifestyle changes won't be enough to lower the blood pressure to a normal range. These people will need to take medications to control the blood pressure.

  • Partner with your doctor to determine which of the many blood pressure drugs are best for you
  • Try not to get discouraged if you have to try several drugs before you find the right one; this is common\
  • Stay on your medications - even if you feel fine

Various hypertensive drugs work differently. Some decrease the volume of plasma in the blood or slow the rate of blood flow through the body, while others relax the heart by affecting the passage of certain elements in the blood.

High blood pressure is a lifelong disease. It can be controlled but not cured.

If you have already had a stroke, lowering your blood pressure can reduce your risk of having another stroke - even if you do not already have high blood pressure.