What is blood pressure and why does it matter?

About Blood Pressure

Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against the artery walls. Blood pressure is written as two numbers: the first number, systolic blood pressure, represents the pressure when the heart is beating. The second number, diastolic pressure, represents the pressure between heart beats.

Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (i.e., systolic blood pressure less than 120 m Hg and diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mm Hg). The American Heart Association defines elevated blood pressure as having a systolic pressure between 120-129 and a diastolic blood pressure less than 80 mm Hg. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is present when systolic blood pressure is 130 mm Hg or higher or diastolic blood pressure is 80 mg Hg or higher.

Keep in mind that your blood pressure varies throughout the day, depending on your level of activity. If your blood pressure remains elevated throughout the day, you may be diagnosed by your physician as having high blood pressure.

What is High Blood Pressure and Why Does It Matter?

High blood pressure is very common. In fact, nearly half of Americans over the age of 20 have high blood pressure, but many have not been diagnosed. High blood pressure frequently has no associated symptoms. It is therefore important to check your blood pressure on a regular basis.

Left untreated, over time, high blood pressure can lead to serious health complications including stroke, heart attack, vision loss or kidney failure.

What are risk factors for high blood pressure?

There are several risk factors for developing high blood pressure, some of which you can control and some that you cannot:

Risk factors that you cannot control:

  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Increasing age
  • Gender (until age 64, men have higher risk than women. After age 65, women have a highest risk than men)
  • Race (black people have higher risk)
  • Chronic kidney disease

Risk factors you can control:

  • Lack of physical activity
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Poor diet including one high in sodium and low in potassium
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • Stress

The good news is that by making lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise, it is possible to keep your blood pressure in the normal range and reduce the likelihood of serious consequences.

Learn more:

American Heart Association

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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