Living with High Blood Pressure

Living with High Blood Pressure

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Nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure – also known as hypertension. Only about one in four adults with high blood pressure have it under control. Are you one of them?

Learning to manage your blood pressure can be lifesaving – literally. In 2019, high blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death in half a million Americans. The condition increases the risk for kidney disease, heart attack and stroke.

Often called a ‘silent killer’, high blood pressure doesn’t usually have any symptoms. The best way to monitor your blood pressure is to have it checked regularly and know what your numbers mean.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure measures how hard blood pushes against the body’s artery walls. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body.

Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day, but it can damage your heart and cause health problems if it stays high for a long time. That’s why keeping an eye on your blood pressure levels is so important.

Two aspects of blood pressure are measured: systolic and diastolic. Levels are categorized as follows:

Normal: systolic less than 120 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg.

Elevated: systolic 120 -129 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg.

Stage 1 hypertension: systolic 130 -139 mmHg or diastolic 80 - 89 mmHg.

Stage 2 hypertension: systolic 140+ mmHg or diastolic 90+mmHg

Some risks factors contribute to high blood pressure.

Certain lifestyle choices and behaviors affect blood pressure and raise it to dangerous levels. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Eating too much salt in the diet
  • Drinking too much alcohol (more than one to two drinks per day)
  • Diabetes
What steps can be taken to help control high blood pressure?
  • Get regular checkups and talk to your doctor about your blood pressure numbers. Set a personal blood pressure goal.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly as directed.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Your doctor will decide which medications are right for you. Take it as your doctor advises. If you have side effects, don’t stop taking it without checking with your doctor.
Be proactive and make lifestyle changes.
  • Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt (sodium), fat, and cholesterol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, talk with your doctor about a realistic weight-loss goal.
  • Decrease your alcohol intake and drink in moderation.
  • Make physical activity a daily part of your life.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Fend off stress. Walk, meditate, try yoga or write in your journal.

Remember, you’re not alone. Millions of people just like you are dealing with high blood pressure. Use these resources to learn more about ways to monitor and manage your blood pressure:

Sources: High Blood Pressure,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022; Know Your Risk for High Blood Pressure,   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021; Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure  American Heart Association, 2022.

Originally published 3/13/2019; Revised 2022