The pressure of the blood against the artery walls is called blood pressure. It is a combination of the force created when blood is pumped into the arteries by the heart and the resistant force of the arteries against this flow of blood. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, the systolic (top) number and the diastolic (bottom) number. Optimal blood pressure for adults is 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or less. Blood pressure over 120/80 mmHg is considered high blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), about 74.5 million people in the United States age 20 and older have high blood pressure. In 2006, 56,561 people died from high blood pressure. This was a 19.5 percent death rate increase from 1996.
High blood pressure does not always present symptoms so the best way to detect it is to receive regular blood pressure checks from a healthcare professional.
There are many risk factors for high blood pressure including age, genetics, race, weight, tobacco use, and dietary habits. The chances of getting high blood pressure increase with age. It is also more common in blacks than whites and runs in families. Those who use tobacco are at a greater risk for high blood pressure, as are overweight people. People consuming too much salt, too little potassium and too little Vitamin D are also at a higher risk for high blood pressure.
It is important to detect and control high blood pressure, as it can cause artery damage, aneurysms, metabolic syndrome, heart failure and memory problems. The blood vessels in the kidneys and the brain can also be damaged by high blood pressure.
Doctors will often prescribe medication for high blood pressure. Medications used for high blood pressure include diuretics, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, renin inhibitors and vasodilators.
Blood pressure can also be lowered with lifestyle changes. Limiting alcohol and tobacco use are recommended for those with high blood pressure, as both of these can increase the blood pressure. Physical activity can lower the blood pressure and can also promote weight loss, which can lower blood pressure further. Stress management is also important for those with high blood pressure. Perhaps most important is following a healthy diet, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
The DASH diet has been shown in studies by the National Heart, Lung and Brain Institute to reduce blood pressure. This diet is low in saturated fat, sugar and cholesterol. It is comprised of mostly whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, making it high in fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium and potassium. Sodium is limited to 2300 mg a day.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic recommend certain supplements to decrease high blood pressure. These include alpha-linolenic acid, psyllium, calcium, cocoa, cod liver oil, coenzyme Q-10, Omega-3 fatty acids and garlic.
About this Author
Lisa Thompson is a Holistic Health Practitioner and writer in San Diego who has written for the Prevention website. She is a nationally certified massage therapist, personal trainer, and nutritionist.