According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure. It is possible to have high blood pressure and not know it. High blood pressure can cause damage to your circulatory system that contributes to heart disease, stroke, heart failure, and other health issues.
Learn the facts about high blood pressure - what is high blood pressure, how do you measure your blood pressure, what are the risks of high blood pressure, and how do you lower blood pressure.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure, often referred to as BP, is the force or pressure within our arteries that moves blood through your circulatory system and throughout your body.
When you’re healthy, just enough blood pressure is created to pump blood containing oxygen, antibodies, hormones, and nutrients to your vital organs. High blood pressure indicates that your heart is working too hard and that the force of the blood flowing through your arteries and veins is too high.
How Do You Measure Your Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is measured with two key metrics: the top number called systolic blood pressure (when your heart is squeezing) and the bottom number called diastolic blood pressure (when your heart is relaxed). Blood pressure readings fall into four categories: normal, elevated, Stage 1, Stage 2, and hypertensive crisis. In a normal blood pressure reading, the systolic number is less than 120 and the diastolic is less than 80.
Understanding your blood pressure readings and where you fall in the four categories is the first step to protecting your heart health.
What are the Risks of High Blood Pressure?
If undetected or uncontrolled, high blood pressure can cause a wide variety of negative health issues. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease or failure, vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina, or peripheral artery disease.
“We call hypertension the ‘silent killer’ because many people may have no symptoms and believe that they are healthy, when they are really at an increased risk for heart disease, heart failure and other related illnesses. And you may not have any symptoms until serious damage has been done to your internal organs including not only your heart but your brain, kidneys and eyes,” said Gina Zichittella, a certified nurse practitioner at Baystate Cardiology in Palmer.
Know your numbers, discuss with your doctor, and ensure you're doing all you can to manage your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and other illnesses.
How Do You Lower High Blood Pressure?
The cardiac specialists at Baystate Health (as well as the CDC!) recommend making positive lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure, including:
- Exercising regularly
- Quitting smoking
- Eating a healthy diet with limited salt and alcohol
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing your stress levels
Each lifestyle change can help you lower your blood pressure and live a healthier life overall. Lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to lower your blood pressure. Your doctor may recommend medication in addition to the lifestyle changes.