Taking your blood pressure is one of the first tasks your doctor does when you arrive for any appointment. It can be a cause for concern for many people; high blood pressure, or hypertension, can increase a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) talks about what you need to know about blood pressure.
Blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The systolic blood pressure, the number that comes first, measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats. The second number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in the vessels when the heart is resting between beats. A normal blood pressure is 120/80. When it reaches 140/90, that is considered high blood pressure.
The risks of high blood pressure
About a third of American adults have high blood pressure. There are no symptoms, so getting it checked regularly (if not at the doctor’s office, many pharmacies have blood pressure machines) is likely the only way to know if you’re at risk. Hypertension can harden your arteries, which means less oxygen-carrying blood is getting to your heart and brain. This can lead to chest pain, heart failure or heart attack, or burst arteries to the brain, causing a stroke. Untreated high blood pressure can also contribute to chronic kidney disease.
Causes of high blood pressure
Most adults with hypertension don’t have an identifiable cause, according to the Mayo Clinic. This type, called primary hypertension, tends to develop gradually over time, with risk factors like age, genetics, being overweight, not eating a healthy diet or using tobacco. Secondary hypertension is caused by an underlying condition like kidney problems, genetic defects, certain medications or thyroid problems, and it tends to appear suddenly and cause higher blood pressure than primary hypertension.
Preventing or treating high blood pressure
There are a number of non-medical options to control hypertension. A healthy diet that is low in salt, fat and cholesterol, and full of fresh fruits and vegetables can help to keep your blood pressure low. Physical activity can help as well. If you’re not exercising at all right now, ease into it with short, brisk walks a few times a day five days a week.
There also are medications that treat high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about what treatment regimen is best for you!