Learn about high blood pressure
Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. About 80 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with hypertension, and high blood pressure can lead to complications such as stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include:
- Advanced age
- Lack of physical activity
- A diet that is high in salt
- Family history
- Ethnic background (African-Americans have increased risk for high blood pressure).
It is unknown exactly what causes high blood pressure. High blood pressure cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Take a moment to review the information below so you can learn more about controlling your blood pressure.
“Blood pressure” means the force of blood as it pushes against blood vessel walls. Blood pressure measurement is written as two numbers, such as 123/77 mmHg.
- The top number is called systolic and shows how hard the blood pushes when your heart is pumping.
- The bottom number, called diastolic, shows how hard the blood pushes between heartbeats when your heart is relaxed and filling with blood.
It is normal for blood pressure to go up and down throughout the day. Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is a consistently higher than 140/90 mmHg.
Having high blood pressure is dangerous because you most likely will not feel any differently when your blood pressure is elevated. This is why high blood pressure is referred to as the “silent killer.” The way to know if your blood pressure is high is to get it checked regularly.
Checking blood pressure, using a cuff on the upper arm, is easy and painless. Blood pressure is usually checked at:
- Medical visits
- Local drug store.
It is important to use proper technique when taking your blood pressure to get an accurate reading: empty your bladder, support your feet on the ground, keep your legs uncrossed, put the cuff on your bare arm, and do not have a conversation during measurement of your blood pressure. It can also be helpful to sit quietly for 5 minutes before taking your blood pressure. Self-monitoring and recording blood pressure readings at home can provide your healthcare team with important information to help you manage high blood pressure.
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and unhealthy fats (see below for more information about diet)
- Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women
- Try to get 30 minutes of exercise per day most days of the week, if you are able and after consultation with your doctor
- If you smoke try to cut down, or quit altogether
- If your doctor prescribes medication, take it daily (or as prescribed) even if you are feeling well
- Manage stress. Learn more about stress management.
When your blood pressure is consistently greater than 140/90 mmHg your doctor may prescribe medication in addition to lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, increasing activity and losing weight. There are different types of medication to treat high blood pressure.
Some medications work to remove fluid and sodium (salt) from the body. Other medications slow your heart beat and relax blood vessels to improve blood flow. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist to discuss all of the medications you take so that you understand the desired effects and possible side effects.
The DASH diet is recommended as a healthy eating plan that can help to control blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Studies have shown that adopting a DASH diet or cutting back on the amount of sodium you eat can help to lower blood pressure. Elements of the DASH diet include:
- Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.
- Limiting sodium (including salt added while cooking or eating)
- Find more information on the DASH diet.
When trying to make an improvement to your health it may be helpful to design a smart goal. A smart goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound. For example you may want to eat less processed foods to reduce your sodium intake and improve your blood pressure. Your smart goal may be to experiment with a low sodium recipe prepared at home each Monday for a month. Design your own smart goal using the My Experiment form.
My Experiment (pdf)
Heart health class schedule