High blood pressure (or hypertension) is nearly as dangerous as high cholesterol. People with this condition are more than twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as those with normal blood pressure are. Because fifty million Americans have hypertension, it's a major cause of atherosclerosis, to say nothing of the death and disability that it brings about through stroke and other hypertensive diseases such as kidney failure.
Your blood pressure reading has two parts, the systolic blood pressure (the top number) and the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number). The systolic number represents the pressure while the heart is beating, and the diastolic number represents the pressure when the heart is refilling with blood between beats.
To determine if you have high blood pressure, look up your numbers in Table 4.2. What if your systolic blood pressure is high but your diastolic is not, or vice versa? Use the higher category to determine your status. For example, if your blood pressure is 162/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) you have Stage 2 hypertension.
The lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and premature death. With this in mind, aim for a blood pressure of less than 140/90 mm Hg. But people with cardiovascular disease (or other conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease) should aim for an even lower level, of no more than 135/85 mm Hg and, ideally, 120/80 mm Hg or less.
Because high blood pressure usually begins gradually between ages twenty and fifty, all adults should have their blood pressure checked regularly. Blood pressure checks every three years usually suffice for people with normal or optimal levels. But people with elevated blood pressure need more frequent measurement—at least once a year for those with high-normal blood pressure. People who are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure (including African-Americans, relatives of people with hypertension, and patients with kidney disease) should also have their blood pressure checked at least once a year, even if their own numbers are normal.
If you have high blood pressure, there are medications you can take and lifestyle changes you can make. Many of the things that help prevent heart disease confer part of their benefit by lowering blood pressure. Regular exercise and weight loss are prime examples. Smoking cessation, moderate alcohol use, stress reduction, and a low-fat, high-fiber, vitamin-rich diet may also help control blood pressure. An eating plan called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) has proved effective in reducing high 54, blood pressure. The DASH diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fats. It's particularly effective if you also restrict the amount of salt you eat. No matter what treatment you're on, make sure your doctor monitors you closely to ensure that you get good results.
The benefits of blood pressure control are substantial; just a 1 mm Hg decline in diastolic blood pressure can reduce your cardiac risk by 2 percent to 3 percent. Although diastolic blood pressure was previously considered most important, experts now understand that reducing the systolic blood pressure can be just as helpful. Because blood pressure tends to rise with age, even people in the "normal" and "optimal" ranges should consider taking steps to keep their blood pressure there.
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Your heart pumps blood throughout your body using a network of tubing called arteries and capillaries which return the blood back to your heart via your veins. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats.Learn more...