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What You Need to Know About High Blood Pressure

Every May is Blood Pressure Awareness Month. Sponsored by the CDC, National High Blood Pressure Education Month raises awareness about the effects high blood pressure can have on health. Because of how pervasive high blood pressure is, we wanted to take the opportunity to explain what blood pressure is, along with the risks, causes, and treatments available. 

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries that carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. It’s written as two figures: systolic, which is the pressure when your heart beats, and diastolic, when your heart rests between beats. Many of us are used to hearing a measurement like “120 over 80,” which would be your systolic measurement over your diastolic measurement. Anything under 120/80 mmHg would be considered a “normal” or “healthy” blood pressure. What’s deemed to be unhealthy can vary based on the medical practitioner. 

The Health Risks of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. According to some statistics, approximately 1 in 3 US adults have high blood pressure; however, most people are unaware they have hypertension due to a lack of symptoms. As a result, it’s important to get your blood pressure checked occasionally to ensure it falls within normal levels. Consistently high blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic. As a result, several complications can occur.

Common risks of hypertension include: 

  • Heart attack and heart disease, including angina (chest pain) or heart failure, which is when your heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs
  • Stroke or neurological problems could manifest disabilities in speech, movement, and other essential activities.
  • Chronic kidney disease

Common Causes of High Blood Pressure

Typically, lifestyle choices directly impact your blood pressure. For example, lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle frequently increases blood pressure. Family history also has a lot to do with it. Other health conditions, like diabetes or obesity, can also increase the risk of high blood pressure. It can also occur during pregnancy, which is a condition called preeclampsia. 

Management of High Blood Pressure

Many people can successfully manage a high blood pressure diagnosis by adjusting certain lifestyle factors. For example, one of the most common recommendations is to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, at least five days a week. Furthermore, not smoking, eating a healthy diet that limits sodium and alcohol, and maintaining a healthy weight are lifestyle changes that directly impact your blood pressure. And while it may be easier said than done, limiting stress also helps manage high blood pressure. 

For some people, lifestyle changes won’t be sufficient, and medicine will be necessary. If you have concerns about your blood pressure or family history, talk with your health care team. They can help you successfully navigate a chronic diagnosis and provide access to specialists in certain areas. In addition, you can help protect yourself from heart disease, stroke, and other complications by taking action.