High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is sometimes called “the silent killer” because it usually causes no noticeable symptoms, and many people don’t realize they have hypertension until it results in other health problems.
Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and eye damage.
The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your pressure checked regularly by your healthcare provider. You also can regularly check your blood pressure yourself, either at a pharmacy equipped with a blood pressure machine or using a home blood pressure monitor.
What the Numbers Mean
Two numbers are used to record blood pressure. Systolic pressure, the higher of the two numbers, indicates the pressure your blood exerts in your arteries with each heartbeat. Diastolic pressure, the lower number, indicates the pressure your blood exerts between heartbeats.
Here is what the numbers mean, according to the American Heart Association:
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) in your diet. In addition, nearly 60 percent of people with diabetes have hypertension.
How Do 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, low-sodium diet. Don’t smoke, and don’t drink alcohol in excess.
What if I Find Out that I 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.