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Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): An Overview

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Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure or HBP, is a health condition that affects more than 100 million Americans. This staggering number reveals how common this condition is, but high blood pressure should by no means be considered non-threatening. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to such dangerous health risks as heart disease, heart attack, stroke, metabolic syndrome, dementia or other memory problems, or heart failure. To help you understand the risk factors and dangers of this condition, we’re providing an overview of the causes and impact of living with hypertension.

What is Blood Pressure?

Arteries are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. Blood pressure is the force of blood pressing against artery walls, a measurement that typically rises and falls throughout the day based on such factors as stress and activity. When a heart beats, it generates pressure when blood pushes through arteries, veins, and capillaries. When blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries, it’s known as systolic pressure. The period of rest that the heart experiences between beats is known as diastolic pressure. The result of these two forces is blood pressure.

What is High Blood Pressure?

For individuals with high blood pressure, the blood’s long-term force against the artery walls eventually leads to health problems. The more a heart pumps and the narrower the arteries, the higher the blood pressure, as your heart needs to work harder to send blood through the narrow artery vessels to other parts of the body. A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg.

What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?

Most individuals living with hypertension do not experience any symptoms, sometimes even for years, making this condition particularly dangerous if left undetected.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

Nearly anyone of any age can develop high blood pressure, particularly if they fail to exercise regularly. Some health complications, such as diabetes and obesity, can also increase the risk of hypertension.

High Blood Pressure Risks

Individuals with high blood pressure are at an increased risk of stroke and heart disease, the two leading causes of death for Americans. If left untreated, hypertension can damage the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.

Preventing High Blood Pressure

No matter your age or health history, you can make lifestyle and diet changes to lower your blood pressure and mitigate your risk of a catastrophic health incident. A doctor might also recommend certain blood pressure medications to help patients manage their high blood pressure. To minimize your risk of hypertension:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week
  • Eat a diet full of lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, that is high in potassium and fiber and that is low in salt and fried foods
    Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do not smoke, or if you are currently a smoker, talk to your doctor about quitting
  • If you are a man, limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day, or one drink per day if you are a woman
  • Get enough restful sleep each evening

Diagnosing High Blood Pressure

Since most people living with hypertension do not experience symptoms, the only way to diagnose the condition is to have your doctor measure your blood pressure. If you believe that you might be at risk of hypertension, talk to your doctor. They will be able to assess your risk, measure and monitor your blood pressure, and help you create a lifestyle-focused treatment plan to help you begin to reverse the dangers of this dangerous condition.