High Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. The force is generated with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the heart into the blood vessels. Each time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes) pressure is created inside the arteries. The pressure is greatest when blood is pumped out of the heart into the arteries. When the heart relaxes between beats (blood is not moving out of the heart), the pressure falls in the arteries.
Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure:
- The top number, or systolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body.
- The bottom number, or diastolic pressure, refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, directly increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. With high blood pressure, the arteries have an increased resistance against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood. Usually high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. However, you can know if your blood pressure is high by having it measured regularly.
Blood pressure may vary at different times of the day and during different activities. Develop a routine to measure your blood pressure regularly. Listen to our podcast to learn about the blood pressure categories and guidelines.
The first step in preventing high blood pressure is knowing both the risk factors and the things you can do to help control it.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
Nearly one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure, but it is particularly prevalent in:
- People who have diabetes, gout or kidney disease
- African Americans (particularly those who live in the southeastern United States)
- People in their early to middle adult years; men in this age group have higher blood pressure more often than women in this age group
- People in their middle to later adult years; women in this age group have higher blood pressure more often than men in this age group (more women have high blood pressure after menopause than men of the same age)
- Middle-aged and elderly people; more than half of all Americans age 60 and older have high blood pressure
- People with a family history of high blood pressure
- People who are obese
- Heavy drinkers of alcohol
- Women who are taking oral contraceptives
The following conditions contribute to high blood pressure:
- Being overweight
- Excessive salt intake
- A lack of exercise and physical activity
High blood pressure can be controlled by:
- Taking prescribed medications exactly as ordered by your doctor
- Choosing foods that are low in salt
- Maintaining a healthy weight or losing weight if overweight
- Limiting serving sizes
- Increasing physical activity
- Reducing or omitting alcoholic beverages
Track It and Track It Often
Routinely checking your blood pressure can help determine if it falls into a high blood pressure range or category. We recommend you always share your blood pressure numbers with your doctor. Need a doctor? Fill out the form on this page, and we’ll help you find one.