Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Normal arteries are smooth and flexible, and blood flows easily through them. As the blood moves through your arteries, it puts pressure on the artery walls. This is your blood pressure. High blood pressure (also called hypertension) occurs when your blood moves through your arteries at a higher pressure than normal.
Blood pressure is really two measurements, separated by a slash when written, such as 120/80. You may also hear someone say a blood pressure is “120 over 80.”
The first number is the systolic blood pressure. This is the peak blood pressure when your heart is squeezing blood out. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure. It’s the pressure when your heart is filling with blood–relaxing between beats.
A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. If your blood pressure is between 120/80 and 140/90, you have what is called “prehypertension,” which means that if you don’t take important steps, your blood pressure can turn into high blood pressure.
After age 18, have your blood pressure checked at least once every 2 years. Do it more often if you have had high blood pressure in the past.
Both high blood pressure and prehypertension damage your blood vessels. This in turn raises your risk of stroke, kidney failure, heart disease and heart attack
Treatment begins with changes you can make to your lifestyle to help lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease. If these changes don’t work, you may also need to take medicine.
Even if you need to take medicine, making some changes in your lifestyle can help reduce the amount of medicine you must take.Don’t smoke cigarettes or use any tobacco product.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables and is low in fat.
- Limit your sodium, alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Try relaxation techniques or biofeedback
- Many different types of medicine can be used to treat high blood pressure. These are called antihypertensive medicines.
The goal of treatment is to reduce your blood pressure to normal levels with medicine that’s easy to take and has few, if any, side effects. This goal can almost always be met.
If your blood pressure can only be controlled with medicine, you’ll need to take the medicine for the rest of your life. You may need to take more than one medicine to help control your blood pressure. Don’t stop taking the medicine without talking with your family doctor or you may increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.