If your doctor told you that you have high blood pressure, you may have wondered, what's the big deal? Well high blood pressure IS a big deal, because it can lead to a heart attack, stroke, vision loss, and kidney disease, sometimes before you even realize you have it. When you have high blood pressure, you'll want to control it before it can lead to these dangerous complications. Let's talk about high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.
Blood pressure measures the force at which your blood rushes against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it through your body. The higher the force, meaning the higher your blood pressure, the harder your heart has to work. High blood pressure damages not only your heart but also your arteries. When your doctor or nurse measures your blood pressure, you'll see two numbers. The top number is called systolic blood pressure. That's the force of blood in your arteries whenever your heart beats. The bottom number measures diastolic blood pressure, or the force of blood in between heartbeats. A measurement of 140 over 90 or higher is considered high blood pressure. When your blood pressure is 120 over 80 or higher, you have pre-hypertension. That means you're at risk for high blood pressure, but you're not quite there yet.
You're more likely to have high blood pressure if you don't exercise regularly, you're obese, you eat too much salt, you have diabetes, you smoke, or you have a family history of high blood pressure. Most of the time, you won't know that you have high blood pressure. That's because high blood pressure usually doesn't cause symptoms. Unless you get your blood pressure checked, you may have no idea there's a problem until you develop heart disease or another complication. I
f your blood pressure is high, a few simple lifestyle changes can help bring it back down, and prevent its complications. Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, avoid fatty, salty, and sugary foods, exercise at least 30 minutes a day, limit salt to 1,500 milligrams or less a day, that's less than a teaspoon per day, and if you smoke, now is the perfect time to quit. Ask your doctor for tips on how to kick the habit. If these measures don't work, your doctor may prescribe one or more medicines to control your blood pressure. Because high blood pressure can sneak in without warning, stop it before it starts. Stay healthy, and have your blood pressure checked at least once a year. If you already have high blood pressure, follow your doctor's advice to get it under control.
Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.