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What is blood pressure?

Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of your body in vessels called arteries. Blood pressure is the force of pressure against the walls of the arteries. It is recorded in two numbers - the systolic pressure (as the heart beats and this number is the highest) over the diastolic pressure (the heart at rest between beats). The measurement is written as the systolic over the diastolic. A normal reading is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is diagnosed when you find your numbers are consistently staying at 140/90 or higher.

Why is high blood pressure important?

High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard. It also makes the walls of the arteries hard. With high blood pressure, the heart works harder, your arteries take a beating and your chances of stroke, heart attack and kidney problems are greater.

What causes high blood pressure?

In many people with high blood pressure, a single specific cause is not known. This is called essential or primary high blood pressure. Research is continuing to find causes.

In some people, high blood pressure is the result of another medical problem or medication. When the cause is known, this is called secondary high blood pressure.

Categories for Blood Pressure Levels in Adults*
(In mmHg, millimeters of mercury) 
Category Systolic (Top number); Diastolic (Bottom number)

Systolic (Top number)
Diastolic (Bottom number)
 Normal  Less than 120  Less than 80
 Prehypertension  120-139  80-89
High Blood Pressure
 Stage 1  140-159  90-99
 Stage 2  160 or higher  100 or higher

How do I lower my blood pressure?
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight
    Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, blood pressure rises as body weight increases. Losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure - and it has the greatest effect for those who are overweight and already have hypertension.
  • Smoking and Heart Health
    Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. So even though it does not cause high blood pressure, smoking is bad for anyone, especially those with high blood pressure. If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Once you quit, your risk of having a heart attack is reduced after the first year. So you have a lot to gain by quitting.
  • Regular Exercise
    Vigorous exercise strenghthens the heart as a pump, making it a larger more efficient muscle. Even moderate activity can boost HDL ("good") cholesterol, aid the circulatory system, and lower blood pressure and blood fats.
  • Stress
    Stress can make blood pressure go up for a while, and it has been thought to contribute to high blood pressure. But the long-term effects of stress are as yet unclear. Stress management techniques do not seem to prevent high blood pressure. However, such techniques may have other benefits, such as making you feel better or helping you to control over-eating.
  • Limit Alcohol Intake
    Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. It also can harm the liver, brain, and heart. Alcoholic drinks also contain calories, which matter if you are trying to lose weight. If you drink alcoholic beverages, have only a moderate amount - one drink a day for women; two drinks a day for men.

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