It is now estimated that nearly one out of every three Americans has high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the measurement of how much force the flow of blood puts on the arteries. Although blood pressure rises and falls during the day depending on activity levels, eating habits and other conditions, when blood pressure regularly remains elevated, it is called high blood pressure.
Also known by the medical term hypertension, high blood pressure is measured in numbers based on the systolic and diastolic pressures of the blood. Systolic pressure measures the force of blood against the walls of the arteries as the heart beats, while diastolic pressure measures the force of blood on the walls of the arteries between heart beats, when the heart is relaxed. These two numbers are shown in sequence from top to bottom, with the systolic pressure measurement on top and the diastolic on bottom. For instance, a healthy blood pressure is 110/70, with a systolic pressure of 110 and a diastolic pressure of 70.
High blood pressure readings differ for everyone and are difficult to pin down, since our blood pressure rises and falls during the day, but a good healthy blood pressure is usually 120/80 or lower. A systolic pressure which consistently reads from 120 to 139, with a diastolic reading of 80 to 89, is considered pre-high blood pressure. Stage one hypertension is a consistent systolic reading of 140 to 159, with a diastolic reading of 90 to 99. Stage two is anything consistently over 160/100.
When the blood pressure is high, it forces the heart to work harder than it should. The extra force of blood against the walls of the arteries can cause the arteries to harden. Also known as "the silent killer," this condition can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure or blindness. However, there are rarely any symptoms; the only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked.
Blood pressure readings should always be viewed in regard to other conditions which may cause a temporary rise, including stress, fear, anger, fatigue, and anxiety at being in a doctor's office. High blood pressure can also be caused by cardiovascular and kidney disorders, neurological conditions, pre-eclampsia in pregnancy, and various medications.
Hypertension does not discriminate; anyone can develop it, regardless of age, race or gender. The good news is that this condition can be treated and prevented. While there are many medications designed to lower blood pressure, there are also lifestyle changes which can help. Losing weight, exercise, a healthy low-fat diet, and consuming less sodium and alcohol will contribute to lowering high blood pressure. Always talk to your doctor before making changes in diet or exercise, and have your blood pressure checked regularly.