Roughly 50% of American men and 44% of American women suffer from hypertension. Because the condition is so prevalent, understanding the causes of hypertension and its effects on the cardiovascular system is essential. Read on to get the facts about high blood pressure and explore heart health tips that can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease if you have hypertension.
February Was American Heart Month
Since 1964, America has celebrated American Heart Month, an annual event designed to raise awareness about heart disease. For 2022, the month's theme was Heart to Heart: Why Losing One Woman Is Too Many. The American Heart Association used the theme to inform Americans that one in three women receive heart disease diagnoses each year. In addition, the AHA sought to remind people to see their doctors for heart health checkups. This is particularly important this year, as many people have been forgoing preventative appointments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although American Heart Month has ended, the importance of heart health has not, making March a great time to begin to explore the elements of healthy blood pressure.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure describes the force that the blood flowing through the body exerts on the insides of the arteries. It consists of two numbers, one above the other as XXX/YYY. The top number is the systolic pressure and indicates what the pressure is when the ventricles of the heart are contracted to push blood through the arteries. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure and indicates when the ventricles relax.
What Is a Normal Blood Pressure Reading?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a normal blood pressure reading is systolic pressure under 120 mmHg and diastolic pressure under 80 mmHg.
What Is a High Blood Pressure Reading?
A high blood pressure reading is any blood pressure level above 120/80 mmHg. Because blood pressure levels change throughout the day, it is not abnormal to have a slightly elevated systolic blood pressure of 120 to 129 mmHg.
What Is Hypertension?
Hypertension is the term for chronic high blood pressure levels. There are two stages:
- Stage 1: blood pressure levels of 130 to 139/80 to 90 mmHg
- Stage 2: blood pressure levels over 140/90 mmHg
Both the diastolic and systolic pressures do not have to be above normal for you to be diagnosed with hypertension. When doctors consistently observe that either number is in the hypertension range, they are likely to diagnose hypertension.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Some people are more at risk for developing high blood pressure than others. They include:
- Individuals with a family history of hypertension
- People aged 65 and older
- Black people
- People with a body mass index in the obese range
In addition, the following aspects of lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High sodium consumption
- Alcohol consumption
- Taking particular prescription, nonprescription and illegal drugs
Some medical conditions can also cause high blood pressure, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Adrenal gland disorders
- Endocrine tumors
- Chronic stress
Dangers of High Blood Pressure
If uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney problems
- Vision loss
- Difficulty concentrating
How To Lower Blood Pressure and Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
If your doctor gives you a diagnosis of hypertension, follow these heart health tips:
- Follow a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is rich in low grains, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. If you have hypertension, you should also cut down on sodium intake. Avoiding processed foods and preparing meals at home rather than taking out or eating at restaurants can often help people dramatically cut down on sodium in their diets.
- Exercise regularly. The CDC recommends that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. For people with stage 1 hypertension, healthy eating and exercise alone may be enough to bring blood pressure levels into the normal range.
- See your doctor. In some cases, hypertension medications are needed to treat chronic high blood pressure. Your doctor can determine whether you need medication to complement the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.
- Use a blood pressure monitor at home. Checking your blood pressure levels daily at home with a blood pressure monitor can help you, and your doctor assesses how well your treatment plan is working. It can also alert you to dangerous increases in your blood pressure levels that require emergency medical treatment.
- Try magnesium for heart health. Your heart needs magnesium to maintain a normal rhythm, and many adults don't get enough of this mineral from diet alone. If you're deficient, taking a magnesium supplement may help ensure that you have enough to support the activities of your cardiovascular system. There is also evidence to suggest that taking magnesium may help lower blood pressure levels, but more research is needed to confirm this potential benefit.