Prevention and treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension)

Among all adults in the United States, 78 million have been diagnosed with hypertension (high blood pressure). Prevention and treatment of hypertension start with a basic understanding of blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, blood pressure is the amount of force exerted on the artery walls as the heart beats. Arteries are tubes that carry blood from the heart to all other parts of the body.

As the heart beats, if the force of blood flow (blood pressure) through the arteries is too high, the artery walls become damaged, which can lead to heart complications.

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics cardiologist Ramzi El Accaoui, M.D., says blood pressure consists of two numbers: an upper (systolic) number and a lower (diastolic) number.

Systolic blood pressure refers to the amount of force exerted on the artery walls when the heart contracts, while diastolic blood pressure refers to the amount of force exerted when the heart is relaxed.

Do you know your blood pressure target?

A target blood pressure in patients 60 years and older is less than 150/90, and 140/90 in patients younger than 60.

How to prevent and treat hypertension

Dr. El Accaoui recommends the following lifestyle changes to help prevent and treat hypertension:

  • Eat healthy: Limiting sodium (found in salt) intake to less than 1,500 milligrams per day can reduce high blood pressure since sodium holds excess fluid in the body creating a burden on the heart.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Heavy drinking causes an increase in blood pressure. Having less than two drinks per day for men and less than one drink per day for women is recommended.
  • Exercise: Exercise strengthens the heart allowing it to pump blood with less effort. A strong heart reduces the stress on the artery walls preventing plaque buildup and potential risk of heart complications. Forty minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise three to four times per week is recommended.
  • Lose weight: Losing weight will decrease the amount of pressure it takes to move blood around the body. Certain fats in the body cause the arteries to thicken, making blood flow more difficult.
  • Quit smoking: The chemicals found in tobacco smoke can increase the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, limiting the flow of blood to the body. These chemicals raise blood pressure and heart rate, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Quitting smoking should be a top priority for people with and without high blood pressure.

A final note from Dr. El Accaoui

“Manage your stress level. Stress causes the heart to beat faster, constricting the blood vessels and temporarily raising blood pressure.”

Last reviewed: 
May 2016

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