Nearly one-third of all people living in the United States have a silent killer lurking inside them: high blood pressure. In 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high blood pressure was a significant cause of death in more than 360,000 Americans.
Left untreated, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and eye damage.
High blood pressure usually causes no noticeable symptoms, so regular screenings are vital to protecting your health.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the amount of force the blood exerts against the walls of the arteries. Your blood pressure varies throughout the day, rising and falling depending on blood volume, stress levels, blood thickness and the rate at which your heart pumps blood through your circulatory system.
How is blood pressure recorded?
Two numbers are used to record blood pressure. Systolic pressure, the higher of the two numbers, indicates the pressure your blood exerts with each heartbeat. Diastolic pressure, the lower number, indicates the pressure your blood exerts between heartbeats.
What is considered high blood pressure?
A reading of 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic) is considered normal. Your blood pressure is considered to be high if either your systolic reading is above 140 or your diastolic number is above 90.
How can I get my blood pressure screened?
Your blood pressure typically will be checked during most doctor visits. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend several screenings a year to keep a close watch on your readings.
Who is at risk?
Risk factors for hypertension include the following:
• Age—you’re more likely to have hypertension as you age.
• Race—blacks tend to get hypertension at an earlier age.
• Family history—hypertension tends to run in families.
Other risks for hypertension include being overweight or obese, having a sedentary lifestyle, stress, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and having too much sodium (salt) or too little vitamin D in your diet. In addition, nearly 60 percent of people with diabetes have hypertension.
How can I keep my levels normal?
The easiest way to keep your blood pressure normal is to get regular exercise, reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet that is low in sodium. Don’t smoke, and don’t drink alcohol in excess.
The U.S. surgeon general recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day, even if it’s broken up into three 10-minute segments.
What if I find out that I do have high blood pressure?
A slightly elevated blood pressure reading may simply require a lifestyle change, such as losing weight, reducing stress, changing diet or increasing your physical activity. If your pressure gets too high, however, your doctor may recommend blood pressure medication in addition to lifestyle changes.
If you have high blood pressure, be sure to see your doctor for regular checkups.