High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, occurs when blood moves through the body’s arteries at a greater-than normal pressure. High blood pressure usually takes many years to develop and eventually affects just about everyone. It is easily detected and, usually, easily treated.
Normal blood pressure is a reading of 120-over-80.
The “upper” number is called systolic blood pressure and measures the pressure in the body’s arteries when the heart beats. The lower number is called diastolic blood pressure, and measures the pressure in the arteries between beats, when the heart relaxes.
The higher the number, the greater the pressure your heart needs to pump the blood for it to move through the body.
High blood pressure is defined as 140-over-90 or higher. The most common type of high blood pressure is called primary hypertension and has no known cause. The less common type is called secondary hypertension, because it is usually caused by something such as kidney problems, congenital heart defects, medications and illicit drugs.
Blood pressure should be checked in children during their normal exams beginning at age 3 and every one to two years thereafter. If there is a family history of hypertension — especially as one gets older — blood pressure should be checked more often.
Many local pharmacies offer on-site blood pressure machines for your convenience. However, it is preferable for the sake of accuracy and consistency to have your health care provider check your blood pressure.
Some people suffer from “white coat hypertension,” which is a falsely elevated blood pressure in the doctor’s office brought on by anxiety. These people, and others who so desire, can measure their blood pressure at home with the use of a blood pressure monitor that can be purchased from most pharmacies. Consumer Reports magazine gives high ratings to the following monitors:
Omron HEM-711AC $90
CVS by Microlife Deluxe Advanced 344534 $100
Omron Women’s Advanced Elite 7300W $100
Some people with high blood pressure have no symptoms, while others may have headaches, dizziness or nosebleeds.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include increasing age, family history and race. Women are more likely to develop hypertension after menopause.
Complications from high blood pressure include heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and kidney and eye disease. When treated timely and properly, these complications occur much less frequently.
Lifestyle changes can help control and prevent high blood pressure without the need for pricey medication. Here’s what you can do:
Eat healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less saturated fat.
Lose weight if you are overweight.
Limit salt intake.
Limit alcohol. If you drink, do so in moderation.
Participate in regular physical activity.
If the above measures do not control your blood pressure, you need to see your health care provider for evaluation and treatment. Doing so will help you live longer and healthier.