High blood pressure Q&A
What is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force that the blood exerts against the inner walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped through the circulatory system. Normally, a healthy person has arteries that are strong, flexible, and muscular. When the heart contracts, the force of the blood increases. This force is called systolic pressure, and it is the number at the top of a blood pressure reading. Between contractions, when the heart relaxes, the pressure decreases. This is called diastolic pressure, which is the number at the bottom of a blood pressure reading. The chart below from the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7) outlines guidelines for classifying high blood pressure (hypertension) for adults.
Who can develop high blood pressure?
Anyone can develop high blood pressure, or hypertension, but certain risk factors increase the chances for a person to become hypertensive. These factors include
- Male gender (before age 60)
- Older age
- Sensitivity to sodium (salt)
Other factors include heavy alcohol consumption, use of oral contraceptives, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Patients with high blood pressure usually have no symptoms and approximately 30% of patients who have high blood pressure are not aware of it. Stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and blindness are some of the serious outcomes that can result from high blood pressure. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor about your risk factors for high blood pressure.
What are some ways to control high blood pressure?
The following simple steps can help keep blood pressure under control:
Trim down — If you are overweight, extra pounds put an extra burden on your heart.
Exercise — Get 30 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. Even 20 minutes of walking a day can reduce your heart risk. Remember, always talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.
Eat a healthy diet — As a general rule, you should try to reduce the amount of sodium in your diet. Avoid adding salt to food at the table and in cooking. Learn to read labels for sodium content, and limit your daily intake to 2400 mg or less. For many people, there is a clear relationship between high salt intake and high blood pressure.
Limit your alcohol — No more than 1 drink each day for women and 2 drinks each day for men. If you don't drink, don't start. Alcohol increases blood pressure.
Quit smoking — If you are a smoker, quitting will help improve your overall heart health, decrease the risk of heart attack, as well as reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Take your medication — If your doctor has prescribed a beta-blocker, such as Toprol-XL, don't miss a dose and take the medication exactly as your doctor has directed. If you think your medication dose should be changed for any reason, be sure to consult your doctor.