Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a serious condition that affects some 60 million Americans. Many people are not aware they have hypertension because it usually shows no symptoms until one of its complications occurs. If not treated properly, high blood pressure can cause heart disease, vascular disease or kidney failure.
WHAT IS BLOOD PRESSURE?
Blood pressure is the force exerted against walls of the artery when blood moves through blood vessels. Systolic pressure, the top number, indicates the pressure as the heart beats. The second, or bottom number, is the diastolic pressure. This is the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats. Both numbers are important to decide whether blood pressure is normal or not. Elevated blood pressure is called pre-hypertension.
WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF AN ELEVATED BLOOD PRESSURE?
Ideal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. pre-hypertension is present when systolic is between 120-139 or diastolic between 80-89. Blood pressure is elevated and hypertension is present when the systolic is 140 or greater or diastolic is 90 or greater.
WHAT CAUSES HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?
Anyone can develop hypertension, regardless of age, sex or race. However, it is more likely to occur in older adults, African-Americans, the overweight, smokers, and those who consume a lot of salt or alcohol. The majority of patients have no apparent cause for their high blood pressure. These people are referred to as having “primary” or “essential hypertension.” The mechanism behind this type may be related to salt and water imbalance, and to changes in the tone of the blood vessels.
Other people have what is referred to as “secondary hypertension,” which is high blood pressure that occurs secondary to some underlying disease, and may disappear when that disease is controlled. The most common underlying cause is kidney disease.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD BLOOD PRESSURE BE CHECKED?
No one measurement should lead to a diagnosis of high blood pressure. Pressure should be measured several times, on different days and in different postures, before a diagnosis is made.
Since hypertension does not cause noticeable symptoms until complications occur, all adults should have their blood pressure measured by a health professional every year.
If you have hypertension, do not be discouraged. There are many things you can do to help bring your numbers down. These include losing weight, decreasing your intake of salt and fats, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and perhaps, taking medication. Ask your doctor for more information.