Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries that carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it can damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high for a long time. High blood pressure is also called hypertension.
Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first number, called systolic blood pressure, represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, represents the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
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 from 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg have a condition called prehypertension, which means they are at high risk for high blood pressure.
According to the CDC:
• About 75 million American adults (32%) have high blood pressure—that’s 1 in every 3 adults.
• About 1 in 3 American adults has prehypertension—blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal—but not yet in the high blood pressure range.
• Only about half (54%) of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
• High blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans in 2014—that’s more than 1,100 deaths each day.
• High blood pressure costs the nation $48.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed days of work.
• Hypertension (high blood pressure) puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States.
• High blood pressure can also result in damage to your brain, kidneys, eyes and sexual function.
The exact cause of hypertension is not known. However, several factors can contribute to high blood pressure such as:
• Family history
• Excessive alcohol intake
• Inactive lifestyle/lack of exercise
• A high-salt and/or a high-fat diet
• High intake of caffeine
One of the most dangerous aspects of hypertension is that you may not know that you have it. In fact, nearly one-third of people who have high blood pressure don’t know it. The only way to know if your blood pressure is high is through regular checkups. This is especially important if you have a close relative who has high blood pressure.
If your blood pressure is extremely high, there may be certain symptoms to look out for, including:
• Severe headache
• Fatigue or confusion
• Vision problems
• Chest pain
• Difficulty breathing
• Irregular heartbeat
• Blood in the urine
• Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears
Addressing lifestyle habits that may result in high blood pressure is the best way to treat hypertension:
• Eating a heart healthy diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and low in sodium.
• Limiting alcohol intake to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
• Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most or all days of the week, as recommended by your health care provider.
• Maintaining a healthy weight.
• Quitting smoking.
• Reducing stress.
Not all people can effectively manage their blood pressure by lifestyle changes alone. For these cases, there are a wide variety of oral medications, also known as anti-hypertensive drugs, which are safe and effective in treating high blood pressure in conjunction with continuing lifestyle changes. Individual medication may be used alone or in combination with other medications.
To schedule a checkup with your primary care provider or to find a provider that is right for you call Mosaic Medical Center – Maryville at 660-562-2525.
Jackie Ross, RN, BSN Community Health Liaison Mosaic Medical Center, Maryville