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High Blood Pressure/Hypertension

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a condition where the arteries have an increased resistance against the flow of blood, causing the heart to pump harder to circulate the blood. Usually high blood pressure has no signs or symptoms. However, you can know if your blood pressure is high by having it checked regularly by your healthcare provider.

doctor checks patient''s blood pressure

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Is My Blood Pressure Normal?

How to Test or Measure Your Blood Pressure

Your doctor should check your blood pressure at the beginning of every appointment. To take your blood pressure at home you'll need a blood pressure cuff, monitor, and log book. You can also check your blood pressure at machines located at a grocery store, pharmacy or fitness center.

Video: How to Take Your Blood Pressure

What do the blood pressure numbers mean?

Pressure is created inside the arteries each time the heart beats (contracts and relaxes). The pressure is greatest when blood pumps out of the heart into the arteries or systole. The pressure falls in the arteries or diastole when the heart relaxes between beats and blood is not moving out of the heart. Two numbers are recorded when measuring blood pressure:

Top number (systolic pressure)

"Systolic pressure" refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart contracts and pumps blood through the body.

Bottom number (diastolic pressure)

"Diastolic pressure" refers to the pressure inside the artery when the heart is at rest and is filling with blood.

Before electronic/digital blood pressure machines were invented, the blood pressure reading was always done using a traditional mercury filled blood pressure reader like the one still used in many medical facilities. These traditional blood pressure readers have an indicator column filled with mercury. That is why the systolic and diastolic pressures are still recorded as "mm Hg" (millimeters of mercury). This recording represents how high the mercury column is raised by the pressure of the blood.

Effects of High Blood Pressure

Early diagnosis and treatment of hypertension is critical because of its many associated risks. High blood pressure directly increases the risk of coronary heart diseaseheart attack, heart failure, stroke, renal insufficiency and is a leading cause of death. Additionally, approximately five percent of people with hypertension suffer from renal or renovascular hypertension, caused by narrowing or blockage in the arteries to the kidneys. 

Causes of Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)

There are many causes of hypertension. A majority of people with high blood pressure have what is known as essential hypertension or hypertension without a known cause. In general, these people are treated with medication. Hypertension can also be addressed with lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise. The following conditions are known to contribute to high blood pressure:

  • Being overweight
  • Excessive sodium intake
  • A lack of exercise and physical activity

People with hypertension should routinely have their blood pressure checked and be under the care of a physician.

Treatments for High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure may be treated with medication or with lifestyle changes such as:

  • Healthier eating
  • Exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Stress management
  • Smoking cessation
  • Limited or no alcohol use