According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one in three U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million of us—have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. High blood pressure is often called the ‘silent killer’ because it usually has no symptoms; many suffer from hypertension or pre-hypertension and don’t even know it.
High blood pressure is clinically known as ‘hypertension’; it does not refer to being tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. High blood pressure means the pressure in your arteries is elevated.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers: the top (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body; the bottom (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats. Blood pressure below 120/80 is considered optimal for adults. A systolic pressure of 120 to 139 or a diastolic pressure of 80 to 89 is considered ‘pre-hypertension’ and needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher is considered hypertension.
If someone has untreated high blood pressure for a long time, they are at elevated risk for damage to major organs as well as to the small blood vessels in the eyes. If left untreated, high blood pressure can also lead to serious complications such as stroke or heart attack. When other health problems co-exist with high blood pressure, the risk to the body increases significantly. Smoking, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, and high cholesterol, can increase the risk of death.
Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Blood Pressure:
- Get regular checkups from a qualified health practitioner. The risk of developing high blood pressure increases as you age, however, you should not wait until middle age to have your blood pressure checked. Even children and teens can develop high blood pressure.
- Review your family history with your doctor. People with close blood relatives with high blood pressure are at higher risk.
- Eat a healthy diet, low in salt and fat, and high in fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid alcohol, limit caffeine intake and do not smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight. People with a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
- Engage in physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Stress is often mentioned as a risk factor for hypertension. Responses to stress vary from person to person. Managing stress has many health benefits.
- If you are currently prescribed blood pressure medication, take it as directed by your physician.
- If you are pregnant, work closely with your physician to monitor your blood pressure. Hypertension can develop rapidly in the last three months. If untreated, it’s dangerous to mother and baby.
American Heart Association, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Health and Human Services, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.