|About High Blood Pressure
Everybody has — and needs — blood pressure. Without it, blood can’t circulate through the body. And without circulating blood, vital organs can’t get the oxygen and food that they need to work. So it’s important to know about blood pressure and how to keep it within a healthy level. Normal blood pressure falls within a range; it’s not one set of numbers.
When the heart beats, it pumps blood to the arteries and creates pressure in them. This pressure (blood pressure) results from two forces. The first force is created as blood pumps into the arteries and through the circulatory system. The second is created as the arteries resist the blood flow.
If you’re healthy, your arteries are muscular and elastic. They stretch when your heart pumps blood through them. How much they stretch depends on how much force the blood exerts.
Your heart beats about 60 to 80 times a minute under normal conditions. Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. Your blood pressure can change from minute to minute, with changes in posture, exercise or sleeping, but it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) for an adult. Blood pressure that stays between 120–139/80–89 is considered prehypertension and above this level (140/90 mm Hg or higher) is considered high (hypertension). Your doctor may take several readings over time before deciding whether your blood pressure is high.
What do blood pressure numbers indicate?
The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
The systolic pressure is always stated first and the diastolic pressure second. For example: 118/76 (118 over 76); systolic = 118, diastolic = 76.
Control Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
Treating high blood pressure almost always includes making lifestyle changes to help control your risk factors. Controlling risk factors can reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke, so it’s important to follow your healthcare professional’s recommendations carefully. Sometimes, when lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control high blood pressure, your doctor will also prescribe medication.
Lose weight if you’re overweight. Many people with high blood pressure are also overweight. If your doctor recommends that you lose weight, you can work with other healthcare professionals such as registered dietitians, nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, etc., to get started on the right diet and physical activity for you. Losing weight will reduce the strain on your heart, and often weight loss will cause your blood pressure to drop. If you’re given a diet, follow it closely, including suggestions about reducing how much alcohol you drink. Alcoholic drinks are low in nutrients and high in calories, so if you’re trying to lose weight, avoid them.
Get regular physical activity. Lack of physical activity can contribute to obesity and also increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. Regular physical activity is defined by the American Heart Association as moderate to vigorous exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most or all days of the week. Physical activity should definitely be a part of your life. Don’t be afraid to be active. It’s always best to consult your doctor before beginning a new activity program.
Avoid excessive alcohol. Some studies say that drinking more than 3 to 4 ounces of 80-proof alcohol per day will raise blood pressure. A person with high blood pressure can usually drink alcohol in moderation. Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 1–2 drinks a day. If you’re on a weight-reduction diet, remember that alcohol is high in calories.
Avoid Sex. Just Kidding, I wanted to make sure you were really paying attention!
Stop smoking. Smoking is another major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Manage your stress. Relaxing for short periods during your workday, at night and on weekends also may help lower your blood pressure. Stress can lead you to increase smoking, alcohol consumption, overeating and other activities that raise your risk for heart attack and stroke. A great stress-buster is getting the amount of regular physical activity recommended by the American Heart Association.
Decrease sodium (salt) intake. Most Americans eat far more sodium than they need, and less sodium helps lower blood pressure in most people. Your doctor may recommend a low-salt diet if your blood pressure is too high. This means you’ll have to limit many salt-containing foods and cut down on how much salt you use in cooking and at the table. Start reading package labels regularly to learn about the sodium content of prepared foods. Seventy-five percent of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed foods. You’ll also discover that herbs and spices give food flavor and avoid the risk of high-sodium intake.
Eat for heart health. The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole-grain high-fiber products. The diet should also contain fat-free and low-fat dairy products, legumes, poultry, and lean meats and fish (twice a week), preferably omega-3 containing fish (e.g. salmon, trout, herring). Eating these foods and beverages will help you consume a diet low in saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol and sodium (salt).
Discuss the use of oral contraceptives with your doctor. The incidence of high blood pressure isn’t directly related to a person’s sex. However, doctors usually keep a close watch on a woman’s blood pressure during pregnancy or if she’s taking oral contraceptives. Some women who’ve never had high blood pressure develop it during pregnancy. Similarly, a woman taking oral contraceptives is more likely to develop high blood pressure if she’s overweight, has had high blood pressure during pregnancy, has a family history of high blood pressure or has mild kidney disease.
Discuss the use of some medications with your doctor. Some other medications also can raise blood pressure and/or interfere with the effectiveness of drugs used against high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure should tell their doctor all of the prescribed and over-the-counter medicines they’re taking. These include such drugs as steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), nasal decongestants and other cold remedies, diet pills, cyclosporine, erythropoietin, tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors.