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Hypertension is the term used to describe high blood pressure.

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body.

Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers — for example, 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg). One or both of these numbers can be too high.

The top number is called the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure.

  • Normal blood pressure is when your blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg most of the time.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) is when your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above most of the time.
  • If your blood pressure numbers are 120/80 or higher, but below 140/90, it is called pre-hypertension.

If you have pre-hypertension, you are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

If you have heart or kidney problems, or if you had a stroke, your doctor may want your blood pressure to be even lower than that of people who do not have these conditions.

Why Do You Get Hypertension?

As we age, blood pressure can typically rise. But, there are many factors that can lead you to develop high blood pressure. Some reason you may be more at risk for hypertension:

  • Are African American
  • Are obese
  • Are often stressed or anxious
  • Drink too much alcohol (more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men)
  • Eat too much salt in your diet
  • Have a family history of high blood pressure
  • Have diabetes
  • Smoker
  • Medical Conditions: Hyperparathyroidism, pregnancy, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, narrowed arteries in kidneys (renal artery stenosis), disorders of the adrenal system
  • Some medications: birth control pills, diet pills, some cold medications, and migraine medications

What Are The Symptoms of Hypertension?

The biggest problem with hypertension is there are usually NO symptoms of hypertension. Symptoms that do occur include: blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, headache, and nosebleeds. These symptoms are often due to very high blood pressure. So, once you have symptoms you have probably had high blood pressure for some time.

Hypertension is usually diagnosed at a well examination or visit for another health issue. This is one reason why yearly exams are so important.

Why Control Your Hypertension?

High blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease. Increased pressure in your heart vessels (hypertension) puts stress and pressure on the pump of the heart. This pressure in time leads to enlargement of the heart and weakening of the vessels in and around the heart.

How Can I Reduce My Blood Pressure?

The goal of treatment is to reduce blood pressure so that you have a lower risk of complications. You and your health care provider should set a blood pressure goal for you.

If you have pre-hypertension, your health care provider will recommend lifestyle changes to bring your blood pressure down to a normal range. Medicines are rarely used for pre-hypertension.

You can do many things to help control your blood pressure, including:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, including potassium and fiber, and drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly — at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day.
  • If you smoke, quit — find a program that will help you stop.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink — one drink a day for women, two a day for men.
  • Limit the amount of sodium (salt) you eat — aim for less than 1,500 mg per day.
  • Reduce stress — try to avoid things that cause you stress. You can also try meditation or yoga.
  • Stay at a healthy body weight — find a weight-loss program to help you, if you need it.

Your health care provider can help you find programs for losing weight, stopping smoking, and exercising. You can also get a referral from your doctor to a dietitian, who can help you plan a diet that is healthy for you.

There are many different medicines that can be used to treat high blood pressure. If your health care provider feels your blood pressure is too high, medicine may be the best plan. That does not mean that you do not need to incorporate lifestyle changes. With lifestyle changes, you may be able to stop taking blood pressure medication. DO NOT stop you blood pressure medication without discussing this with your health care provider!

Often, a single blood pressure drug may not be enough to control your blood pressure, and you may need to take two or more drugs. It is very important that you take the medications prescribed to you. If you have side effects, your health care provider can substitute a different medication – but again, DO NOT stop any medication without talking to your health care provider!

Finally, your health care provider will be able to help you get a blood pressure monitor for your home. The most reliable blood pressure monitor is the one’s that fit on the upper arm. Wrist blood pressure cuffs are readily available, but may not be as reliable. If you have any question as to if your personal BP cuff reading is correct, then take your cuff with you to the office for it to be checked with the office reading. Check your blood pressure once daily at the same time of day or if you are not feeling well. Keep a record of the readings and bring them with you to your visit. You and your PCP can review the readings together.

Get involved in your health. Your life depends on it!