Blood pressure is a numerical value measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) that reflects the force blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels as it circulates throughout the body. Blood pressure measurements consist of two numbers – the first represents the pressure of the blood during a heartbeat and the second represents the force of the blood while the heart rests between beats. Generally speaking, people with measurements of 140/90 mm Hg are considered to have high blood pressure, also called hypertension.
High blood pressure is a serious condition that increases the risk for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney and other organ damage, vision problems, and dementia. People with hypertension benefit from ongoing management to keep their blood pressure within normal, healthy limits.
Hypertension rarely causes symptoms on its own, and many patients don't know they have hypertension until a stroke or heart attack occurs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 33 percent of Americans have hypertension, and many of those men and women don't know it, placing them at risk for serious medical problems. Routine high blood pressure evaluations using a blood pressure cuff are essential to identifying the disease as early as possible.
Hypertension is more common among people who:
* are overweight or obese
* have high cholesterol
* consume a diet high in fats
* lead sedentary lives
* are older
The most common cause of high blood pressure is atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a condition that occurs when sticky cholesterol deposits called plaque build up along artery walls, making vessels narrower and less flexible.
Some patients can control their blood pressure with lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, losing excess weight, eating a diet low in unhealthy fats and high in fiber, and being more physically active. Other patients will need to take medication in addition to making lifestyle changes in order to stay healthy.
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