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Posted: July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

What You Need to Know about High Blood Pressure

A little knowledge can improve your health and even save your life.
Article By: Jody Genessy
What You Need to Know about High Blood Pressure

Sixty-five million people in the United States have high blood pressure, putting them at risk for heart attacks, strokes and myriad other health problems. And if you don’t have it now, chances are you eventually will. A whopping 90 percent of middle-aged Americans will be afflicted with high blood pressure during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the alarms aren’t going off, consider that the American Heart Association calls the potentially damaging condition “the silent killer” because it is symptomless and sometimes goes undetected or untreated.

But high blood pressure needn’t be what Dr. Gerald Fletcher of Mayo Clinic Florida describes as “a devastating problem in this country.” Hope and good news counter the sobering facts: The disease is usually treatable, and AHA spokesman and cardiovascular-disease professor Fletcher says that the path to healthy blood pressure begins with awareness and action. This blood-pressure primer serves as a good starting point.

What Is Blood Pressure?
Simply put, the American Heart Association defines blood pressure readings as a measurement of two heart-related forces in your cardiovascular system:

  1. Systolic (the upper number) is the pressure exerted in the arteries from oxygen-carrying blood being sent from the heart. If the force is too high, it damages the elasticity of the artery walls, requiring more pressure to push blood throughout the body.
  2. Diastolic (the lower number) is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats. Likewise, vascular damage results from too much force.


The most common form of high blood pressure or hypertension involves high systolic pressure (upper number) and normal diastolic pressure (lower number), according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. That’s especially the case for people in their 50s and above. Systolic pressure usually rises gradually with age as arteries harden and become filled with plaque over time—a situation AHA and NHLBI experts claim is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, strokes and kidney failure. Diastolic pressure often drops with age, but it is especially important for younger people to monitor as it poses similar risks.

The AHA considers any pressure readings less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic mmHg (millimeters of mercury) to be in the normal, healthy range. Prehypertension is defined as 120-139 systolic or 80-89 mmHg diastolic. Stage 1 high blood pressure/hypertension begins with readings between 140-159 mmHg systolic or 90-99 mmHg diastolic. Stage 2 HBP/hypertension is anything 160 mmHg systolic or 100 mm Hg diastolic and higher. Readings higher than 180 mmHg (systolic) or 110 mmHg (diastolic) are considered “hypertensive crisis” and require immediate emergency medical attention.

Why Is High Blood Pressure Bad?
The extra force placed on arteries because of high blood pressure can wreak havoc by overstretching vascular walls, making your heart pump harder and limiting oxygen flow to tissues. It can also cause microscopic tears, leading to problematic scar tissue in the artery walls.

The AHA warns of potential life-threatening health problems:

  • Cardiovascular disease.This can potentially lead to a heart attack or heart failure because a restricted blood flow forces the organ to work harder than normal. The risk of blood clots also increases.
  • Strokes and aneurysms.Blood vessels weakened by HBP increase the likelihood of strokes. Arteries are more apt to become blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or to burst (hemorrhagic stroke). When brain cells don’t get enough blood and oxygen, they begin to die.
  • Vascular weakness and scarring from microscopic tears, leading to plaque build-up and possible blood clots.
  • Tissue and organ damagefrom a lack of blood due to narrowed and blocked arteries.
  • A circulatory system workload increase.


Burst vessels from high blood pressure can damage eyes, causing blurred vision or even blindness. Kidneys can cease to function properly because vessels aren’t providing enough blood, possibly leading to kidney failure, dialysis or a transplant. Lungs can be adversely affected by fluid build-up. Memory loss is another possible side-effect.

If that’s not enough to get your attention, hampered blood flow from high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction.

Consider these startling statistics from the AHA: 77 percent of first-time stroke victims, 69 percent of those suffering from their first heart attack and 74 percent of the people with congestive heart failure in the United States have a high blood pressure of 140/90 or higher.

The risk of damage increases the most if you’re overweight (especially obese), if you smoke and if you’re physically inactive, according to Dr. Fletcher. Other risk factors for men include age, heredity, high cholesterol, diabetes, diet and race (African-Americans are more at risk than whites, according to the NHLBI).

Overweight people, especially those with more belly fat, tend to have higher blood pressure. People with low levels of good cholesterol, high triglycerides and diabetes are also at higher risk. “These groups of people have more problems with cardiovascular disease and stroke” in relation to high blood pressure, adds Fletcher.

What can I do about high blood pressure?
Results of a study published in April of 2009 by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that smoking causes 467,000 premature deaths annually in the country, high blood pressure accounts for 395,000 (one in six deaths overall), and being overweight leads to another 216,000. “People need to keep in mind that most of our cardiovascular problems in this country are lifestyle problems,” Doctor Fletcher said. “These are critical things in America, and it’s something we’re still not doing a good job with. We can prevent all of these problems.”

Medical experts’ advice to lower or prevent high blood pressure and help overcome health pitfalls includes:

  • Ditch the cigarettes if you smoke.
  • Lose weight if needed—even 10 pounds can help.
  • Exercise regularly—about 30 minutes per day.
  • Eat healthy food, taking in more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • Limit sodium intake to 2,400 mg or about 1 teaspoon of table salt per day.
  • Only consume alcohol in moderation—2 drinks per day for men.
  • Check blood pressure and cholesterol levels often.
  • Consult with doctor to see if medication is necessary to treat your high blood pressure.


Lifestyle changes can help, Dr. Fletcher insists. He says moderate exercise alone can help an overweight person drop 5 to 6 points off the systolic number and cut 3 to 4 points off the diastolic pressure even without weight loss.

Checking Your Blood Pressure
What amplifies the fear factor is that you can’t simply tell if you have high blood pressure even while it’s stealthily doing damage (thus its “silent-killer” reputation). Experiencing nervousness, feeling your blood boil from stress, having a flushed face and sweating are not necessarily indicative of having the symptomless condition, according to AHA and NHLBI experts.

The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked. But where? Many supermarkets and pharmacies have sufficient arm monitors. Some fire stations offer free readings. Visit your doctor’s office. Cuffs can also be purchased for home use in some big-box department stores, pharmacies, and online, ranging in price from $20 to $70.

To get accurate numbers: Sit straight with your back resting against a chair, relax for a minute and place the monitor on your arm to take the reading. At first, Dr. Fletcher suggests monitoring and tracking your blood pressure every couple of weeks to observe fluctuations, and he advises people to continue checking throughout their lives.

American Heart Association Blood Pressure Categories

Blood Pressure Systolic Diastolic
Category Upper Number Lower Number
Normal less than 120 less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 1 140-159 90-99
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) Stage 2 160 or higher 100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis (Emergency care needed) Higher than 180 Higher than 110

About the writer
Jody Genessy is a sports writer and weight-loss columnist in Salt Lake City. He has lost 140-plus pounds* with Weight Watchers meetings.


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