What is High Blood Pressure?
If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure you may be wondering exactly what it is and how you can control it. So, let’s take a closer look…
Blood pressure measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries as it is pumped around the body by your heart. This reading goes up and down as the heart pumps. So, as the heart pumps the blood out, the pressure is highest, and when the heart is filling up again ready for the next pump, the blood pressure is at it’s lowest.
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg), and is recorded as two figures. For example, 140/80 mmHg.
- The highest reading is the systolic pressure - or the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts.
- The lowest reading is the diastolic pressure - or the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between each heartbeat.
If you have been diagnosed as having hypertension, or high blood pressure, this means your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be.
Is high blood pressure dangerous?
Around 1 in 3 adults in America have high blood pressure. However, because it generally has no symptoms many people have it without knowing it. This is dangerous because it could be damaging your heart, blood vessels and other parts of the body.
Having high blood pressure puts you at greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. It can also lead to kidney failure and other health problems, and therefore it is very important that you are treated correctly.
While blood pressure does tend to go up and down even in those who have normal reading, if your readings are consistently high you are at an increased risk.
What are the blood pressure targets of adults?* ** Normal**: less than 120/80
- Prehypertension: 120-139 or 80-89
- If you have diabetes or** chronic kidney disease**: 130/80 (or higher)
- High blood pressure stage 1: 140-159 or 90-99
- High blood pressure stage 2: 160 (or higher) or 100 (or higher)
For example, if your systolic number is 170, but your diastolic number is 80, you have high blood pressure stage 2. However, if your systolic number is 130, and your diastolic number is 90, you have high blood pressure stage 1.
It’s important to note that all levels above 120/80 mmHg significantly increase your risk, and the danger grows as your blood pressure levels rise.
If you fall within the prehypertension stage, you can take steps to prevent hypertension. However, if you do nothing you are more than likely to develop high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can certainly be treated or prevented by making changes to your lifestyle. These changes include taking regular exercising, eating a healthy diet, losing weight if necessary, and cutting back on alcohol and salt.
Your doctor may also prescribe medicines to help you.
Once you receive treatment for high blood pressure, your subsequent readings should fall within the normal range. If this is the case for you, your blood pressure is under control, but you should continue to follow the treatment plan your doctor has laid out for you.
Melanie is a dietitian and writer. She wrote for HeatlhCentral as a health professional for Food & Nutrition and Heart Health.