High Blood Pressure
The Silent Killer
You can have high blood pressure (HBP) and still feel just fine. That's because HBP does not cause symptoms. But, HBP (also called hypertension) is a major health problem. If not treated, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, and other health problems. And, African Americans are at higher risk for this disease than any other racial or ethnic group.
What Is HBP?
As blood flows from your heart to your blood vessels, it pushes against the walls of your blood vessels. This pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The reading often is recorded as two numbers-the pressure while the heart beats (systolic pressure) over the pressure while the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic pressure). The numbers are written one above or before the other. The systolic number comes first, or on top, and the diastolic number comes second, or on the bottom.
Do You Have HBP?
Your blood pressure should be checked at least yearly or more often if it is high. It is easy, quick, and painless. Get your blood pressure checked when you see your doctor or other health professional, visit a neighborhood clinic, attend a local health fairs, or even when you go to the local drug store or shopping mall.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120 mmHg systolic and less than 80 mmHg diastolic (120/80 or lower). Doctors will say your blood pressure is too high when it measures 140/90 mmHg or higher over time.
People who have blood pressure in the range of 120-139/80-89 mmHg are considered to have pre-hypertension and may be at risk of developing HBP if you do not take action to prevent it. If your blood pressure measures in this range, you should think about making lifestyle changes to improve your blood pressure.
How Can You Prevent and Control HBP?
The good news is that there are ways you can prevent and control HBP and the trouble it can cause. These same healthy habits will help you keep HBP under control.
- Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight adds to your risk of HBP. Ask your doctor if your weight puts you at risk for HBP and if you need to lose weight.
- Exercise each day. Moderate exercise can lower your risk of heart disease. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week or more. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan if you have a chronic health problem, or if you are over age 40 (men) or 50 (women).
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. A healthy diet is important. To control HBP, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
- Cut down on salt. Most Americans eat more salt than they need. A low-salt diet will help lower your blood pressure. Also, avoid foods that come already prepared, as they often are high in salt. Talk with your doctor about your salt intake. For more tips, check out Reduce Salt and Sodium in Your Diet.
- Drink less alcohol. Drinking alcohol can affect your blood pressure. The effect is different for each person. As a general rule, scientists suggest that men limit alcohol to no more than two drinks a day. For women and lighter weight people, they suggest no more than one drink a day.
- Quit smoking. Smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. This applies even to filtered cigarettes. So even though it does not cause high blood pressure, smoking is bad for anyone, especially those with high blood pressure. Once you quit, your risk of having a heart attack is reduced after the first year.
- Take your HBP medicine just as your doctor directs. If lifestyle changes alone do not control your HBP, your doctor may tell you to take blood pressure medicine. You may need to take your HBP medicine for the rest of your life. If you have questions about your medicine, talk to your doctor.
- Know your numbers. Get your blood pressure checked and keep a log of your readings. To download a free blood pressure wallet card.
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Brought to you by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, contact 1-800-444-6472 or visit minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
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