High Blood Pressure

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High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure (Image: Emily Roesly, www.morguefile.com)

High blood pressure, sometimes called hypertension, is a condition that can result in serious medical problems when left untreated. It is important to understand the risks associated with high blood pressure, to stay aware of your personal health status and take steps to incorporate healthy habits that will reduce your likelihood of developing this "silent killer."

The Facts

Blood pressure is the amount of pressure the blood exerts on the blood vessels as it is pumped through the body. Systolic, the top number, measures the force of the blood when the heart contracts or beats. Diastolic, the bottom number, is the force of the blood when the heart relaxes. The higher the blood pressure, the more force the blood is exerted, which puts added stress on the heart. It is estimated that one out of four adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure.

Types

A blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A reading from 120/80 to 139/89 mmHg is classified as pre-hypertension. This means that if you continue with your current lifestyle and unhealthy habits it is likely that you will develop high blood pressure in the near future. A reading of 140/90 mmHg, or higher, falls into the category of high blood pressure. At this stage steps need to be taken to lower the number for decreasing the risk of disease. Changes in lifestyle are preferable, but medication may be necessary.

Effects

High blood pressure can cause atherosclerosis, or a hardening of the arteries, which contributes to heart attack and stroke. In addition, the blood vessels of the kidneys can be damaged, resulting in kidney disease and eventual failure. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels of the eye and cause blindness.

Prevention/Solution

Reduce your intake of sodium---sodium causes fluid retention which increases blood volume making the heart work harder to pump the blood through the body. Incorporate physical activity into your day and maintain a healthy weight. Avoid smoking; nicotine constricts blood vessels and raises heart rate which can raise blood pressure. While lifestyle changes are preferable, in some cases dangerously high blood pressure needs to be treated immediately. It may be necessary to take medication.

Expert Insight

High blood pressure is a condition that does not have any symptoms and is often termed the "silent killer" or "silent disease." It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly at each doctor's visit. Because blood pressure can temporarily rise due to factors such as stress, you will need to have a reading above 140/90 mmHg on three separate visits to be diagnosed with high blood pressure.

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