Get to know your blood pressure

May 17, 2018

High blood pressure is a common problem. If it’s not treated, it can lead to illnesses like heart attack or stroke. It’s sometimes called “the silent killer” because it has no signs or symptoms. You may not even know you have it. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. If you have high blood pressure, there are things you can do to manage it.

What is blood pressure?

Your heart pumps blood to the organs in your body. The blood travels to your organs through blood vessels called arteries. When your heart beats, it pushes blood through your arteries. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries.

Why is blood pressure important?

Your arteries stretch as blood pumps through them. If your blood pressure is high, your arteries start to stiffen. This makes your heart work harder. This force can cause damage by stretching your blood vessels. It can also cause tiny rips that leave scars in your arteries. Scars can catch cholesterol or fat that moves through your blood vessels. This can lead to blood clots or blocked arteries.

Who is most at risk for high blood pressure?

Anyone can get high blood pressure. And as you get older, your chances get higher. Your chances get even higher if you’re overweight or have diabetes. Family history can also play a role. High blood pressure can’t be cured. But, it can be managed.

Know your numbers.

Your blood pressure reading includes two numbers. The top number (systolic) measures the pressure when your heart beats. It’s the higher of the two numbers. The bottom number (diastolic) measures the pressure when your heart rests. It’s the lower of the two numbers.

It’s normal for your blood pressure to change during the day. It can change because of exercise, stress, sleep or pain. A single high blood pressure reading doesn’t mean you have high blood pressure. Keep track of your blood pressure readings over time. If your blood pressure stays high, your doctor may begin to treat you for high blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is 120/80. High blood pressure begins at 140/90. Your doctor can tell you what type of blood pressure you have.

Make healthy choices.

There are things you can do to lower your blood pressure. You don’t have to make all of these changes at once. Even small steps can help. Your doctor can also suggest programs that can help you stick with the changes.

• Lose weight if you are overweight.
• Eat heart healthy and use less salt (sodium).
• Be more active (at least 30 minutes 3–4 times per week).
• Drink alcohol in moderation.
• If you smoke, quit.

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