Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and lead to health problems. High blood pressure can damage your health in many ways. It can seriously hurt important organs like your heart and brain. High blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death.
High blood pressure has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it. The only way to know if you have it is to measure your blood pressure. Then you can take steps to control it if it is too high.
Risk factors include health conditions, your lifestyle, and your family history that can increase your risk for high blood pressure.
Some of the risk factors for high blood pressure cannot be controlled, such as your age or family history. But you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.
|Content source: National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention|
High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because it often has no warning signs or symptoms, and many people do not know they have it.
Rarely, high blood pressure can cause symptoms like headaches or vomiting.
There's only one way to know whether you have high blood pressure—have a doctor or other health professional measure it. Measuring your blood pressure is quick and painless.
Measure your blood pressure regularly. It is quick and painless, and it is the only way to know whether your pressure is high. You can check your blood pressure at a doctor's office, at a pharmacy, or at home.
How Blood Pressure is measured?
First, a doctor or other health professional wraps a special cuff around your arm. The cuff has a gauge on it that will read your blood pressure. The doctor then inflates the cuff to squeeze your arm.
After the cuff is inflated, the doctor will slowly let air out. While doing this, he or she will listen to your pulse with a stethoscope and watch the gauge. The gauge uses a scale called "millimeters of mercury” (mmHg) to measure the pressure in your blood vessels.
Another option is to get a blood pressure measurement from the machines available at many pharmacies. There are also home monitoring devices for blood pressure that you can use yourself
What Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats.
If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, you would say "120 over 80" or write "120/80 mmHg."
The chart below shows normal, at-risk, and high blood pressure levels. A blood pressure less than 120/80 mmHg is normal. A blood pressure of 140/90 mmHg or more is too high. People with levels in between 120/80 and 140/90 have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at high risk for high blood pressure.
High blood pressure (HBP) is treated with lifestyle changes and medicines.
Most people who have HBP will need lifelong treatment. Sticking to your treatment plan is important. It can help prevent or delay problems related to HBP and help you live and stay active longer.
Goals of Treatment
The treatment goal for most adults is to get and keep blood pressure below 140/90 mmHg. For adults who have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, the goal is to get and keep blood pressure below 130/80 mmHg.
Healthy lifestyle habits can help you control HBP. These habits include:
Following a healthy diet
Being physically active
Maintaining a healthy weight
Managing your stress and learning to cope with stress
If you combine healthy lifestyle habits, you can achieve even better results than taking single steps.
You may find it hard to make lifestyle changes. Start by making one healthy lifestyle change and then adopt others.
Some people can control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone, but many people can't. Keep in mind that the main goal is blood pressure control.
If your doctor prescribes medicines as a part of your treatment plan, keep up your healthy lifestyle habits. They will help you better control your blood pressure.
Following a Healthy Diet
To help control HBP, you should limit the amount of salt that you eat. This means choosing low-sodium and no added salt foods and seasonings at the table and while cooking. The Nutrition Facts label on food packaging shows the amount of sodium in an item. You should eat no more than about 1 teaspoon of salt a day.
Also, try to limit alcoholic drinks. Too much alcohol will raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks a day. Women should have no more than one alcoholic drink a day. One drink is a glass of wine, beer, or a small amount of hard liquor.
Being Physically Active
Routine physical activity can lower HBP and reduce your risk for other health problems. Talk with your doctor before you start a new exercise plan. Ask him or her how much and what kinds of physical activity are safe for you.
People gain health benefits from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. The more active you are, the more you will benefit.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight can help you control HBP and reduce your risk for other health problems.
If you're overweight or obese, aim to reduce your weight by 5 to 10 percent during your first year of treatment. This amount of weight loss can lower your risk for health problems related to HBP.
To lose weight, cut back your calorie intake and do more physical activity. Eat smaller portions and choose lower calorie foods. Don't feel that you have to finish the entrees served at restaurants. Many restaurant portions are oversized and have too many calories for the average person.
After your first year of treatment, you may have to continue to lose weight so you can lower your body mass index (BMI) to less than 25. BMI measures your weight in relation to your height and gives an estimate of your total body fat.
A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30 or more is considered obese. A BMI of less than 25 is the goal for controlling blood pressure.
If you smoke or use tobacco, quit. Smoking can damage your blood vessels and raise your risk for HBP. Smoking also can worsen health problems related to HBP.
Talk with your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.
Learning how to manage stress, relax, and cope with problems can improve your emotional and physical health.
Physical activity helps some people cope with stress. Other people listen to music or focus on something calm or peaceful to reduce stress. Some people learn yoga, tai chi, or how to meditate.
Today's blood pressure medicines can safely help most people control their blood pressure. These medicines are easy to take. The side effects, if any, tend to be minor.
If you have side effects from your medicines, talk with your doctor. He or she might adjust the doses or prescribe other medicines. You shouldn't decide on your own to stop taking your medicines.
Blood pressure medicines work in different ways to lower blood pressure. Some remove extra fluid and salt from the body to lower blood pressure. Others slow down the heartbeat or relax and widen blood vessels. Often, two or more medicines work better than one.
Diuretics sometimes are called water pills. They help your kidneys flush excess water and salt from your body. This reduces the amount of fluid in your blood, and your blood pressure goes down.
Diuretics often are used with other HBP medicines and sometimes combined into one pill.
Beta blockers help your heart beat slower and with less force. As a result, your heart pumps less blood through your blood vessels. This causes your blood pressure to go down.
ACE inhibitors keep your body from making a hormone called angiotensin II. This hormone normally causes blood vessels to narrow. ACE inhibitors prevent this, so your blood pressure goes down.
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers
Angiotensin II receptor blockers are newer blood pressure medicines that protect your blood vessels from the angiotensin II hormone. As a result, blood vessels relax and widen, and your blood pressure goes down.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium channel blockers keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of your heart and blood vessels. This allows blood vessels to relax, and your blood pressure goes down.
Alpha blockers reduce nerve impulses that tighten blood vessels. This allows blood to flow more freely, causing blood pressure to go down.
Alpha-beta blockers reduce nerve impulses the same way alpha blockers do. However, they also slow the heartbeat like beta blockers. As a result, blood pressure goes down.
Nervous System Inhibitors
Nervous system inhibitors increase nerve impulses from the brain to relax and widen blood vessels. This causes blood pressure to go down.
Vasodilators relax the muscles in blood vessel walls. This causes blood pressure to go down.
Treatment for Children and Teens
If another condition is causing your child's HBP, treating it often resolves the HBP. When the cause of a child or teen's HBP isn't known, the first line of treatment is lifestyle changes (as it is for adults).
If lifestyle changes don't control blood pressure, children and teens also may need to take medicines. Most of the medicines listed above for adults have special doses for children.
You can help prevent high blood pressure by making healthy choices and managing any health conditions you may have.
By living a healthy lifestyle, you can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range and lower your risk for heart disease and stroke. A healthy lifestyle includes:
Eating a healthy diet.
Maintaining a healthy weight.
Getting enough physical activity.
Limiting alcohol use.
Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid high blood pressure and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Eating foods low in salt (sodium) and high in potassium can lower your blood pressure.
Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high blood pressure. To determine if your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate your body mass index (BMI). If you know your weight and height, you can calculate your BMI. Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure excess body fat.
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. For adults, the Surgeon General recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, like brisk walking or bicycling, every week. Children and adolescents should get 1 hour of physical activity every day.
Cigarette smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you do not smoke, do not start. If you do smoke, quitting will lower your risk for heart disease. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than 2 drinks per day, and women only 1.
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