Blood pressure is the force applied to the interior walls of arteries and blood vessels by the flow of blood. This pressure is comparative to the elasticity and size of the artery or blood vessel and relative to the strength of the heartbeat.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and a reading is given in fraction form with two numbers: a systolic pressure number and a diastolic pressure number. The systolic pressure number is on top, which indicates the pressure created in your arteries or blood vessels when your heart beats. The diastolic pressure number is on bottom and indicates the pressure in your arteries or blood vessels when your heart is at rest in between each beat. For an adult, a normal blood pressure should be below 140/90 mmHg. If one or both of these numbers is too high, this is known as hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Causes of Hypertension
Your hypertension can occur on its own without an identifiable cause. This is the most common type and is referred to as essential hypertension. If your hypertension is a result from another condition, your diet, a habit or a medication, it is known as secondary hypertension. Factors that can cause secondary hypertension include:
- Water and salt intake
- Alcohol intake
- Pregnancy (known as gestational hypertension)
- Medications, such as birth control pills, appetite suppressants, cold medications, migraine medications
- Kidney diseases, such as inflammation, kidney failure, renal artery stenosis or renal vascular obstruction
People who have a family history of high blood pressure, are diabetic, who smoke or are obese are at higher risk for developing hypertension. It is usually more prevalent in African Americans than Caucasians as well. For anyone to prevent the onset of hypertension, patients are advised to:
- Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid eating fatty foods, and eat meals low in fat and cholesterol.
- Decrease alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day.
- Stop smoking.
- Start and maintain an exercise routine or at least 30 minutes a day.
- If you are overweight, you are advised to lose the extra weight.
- If you are diabetic, regulate your blood sugar levels.
- Manage or reduce your stress.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor will likely suggest you follow the prevention guidelines listed above. If these lifestyle changes do not lower your blood pressure, you can also begin taking a medication prescribed by your doctor. Sometimes one medication may not regulate your blood pressure, and you may be prescribed two or more to take together. Please take the medication(s) prescribed to you as they are prescribed. If you experience any side effects from your medication(s), please alert your doctor as soon as possible.