High blood pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects about one in three adults nationwide. So, chances are you or someone you know has the condition.

But many people are unaware they have high blood pressure because there are no easy-to-see external symptoms. In fact, people can have high blood pressure for years and not know it. This is dangerous because high blood pressure causes serious problems – including heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage.

Your health-care provider can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure and make changes, if needed, to keep this "silent" disease from creeping up on you.

Measuring high blood pressure

A blood pressure "reading" is the measure of how much pressure it takes for your heart to pump blood around your body. The systolic number is how high the pressure gets while the heart is beating. The diastolic number is how the low pressure gets while the heart is at rest. To help remember that the diastolic number is the bottom number in the reading, think "d" for down.

Under the new guidelines, an individual's blood pressure is considered:

  • Normal if systolic blood pressure (SBP) is less than 120 and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) is less than 80;
  • Elevated if SBP is between 120-129 and DBP is less than 80;
  • Hypertensive (stage 1) if SBP is between 130-139 or DBP is 80-89;
  • Hypertensive (stage 2) if SBP is 140 or higher or DBP is 90 or higher.

The hidden effects of high blood pressure

Lack of exercise – especially missing out on aerobic exercise that keeps your heart healthy – plus being overweight and eating a lot of salty foods can all contribute to high blood pressure.

High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks because the heart must work harder to do its normal job. In addition, arteries become thicker in response to increasing blood pressure, similar to how a tire needs to be thicker to hold more air pressure.

A vicious cycle can then take place – it takes more pressure to circulate the blood, and so the arteries thicken even more, increasing the risk of stroke and making the heart work harder.

Whether your blood pressure reading is normal or high, keep on track for healthy blood pressure.

Last reviewed: 
June 2017
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