hypertensionHypertension, or high blood pressure, is known as the silent killer. It’s the number one risk factor for stroke, and people with high blood pressure at a greater risk for having a heart attack. Unfortunately, one out of every three adults in the United States has it.

Many people mistakenly believe that high blood pressure is more common among men, but HBP is an equal opportunity disease. Beginning at age 65, women are actually more likely to have this disease than men. The good news is that high blood pressure can often be prevented or controlled by living a healthy lifestyle and working with your healthcare provider.

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of the force of blood against the walls of the blood vessels. The force is higher when your hearts contracts, or beats, and lower when your heart is at rest, in-between beats. That’s what the two numbers of a blood pressure reading represent. Let’s look at an example. If your blood pressure is 118/76, the 118 measures the force against the walls of the vessels when the heart contracts. The 76 measures the force against the walls when the heart is at rest. The ideal is a measurement below 120/80.

The words systolic and diastolic are used to describe the blood pressure numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure (SBP). The SBP is the top number, the blood pressure when your heart is contracting.
  • Diastolic blood pressure (DBP). The DBP is the bottom number, the blood pressure when your heart is at rest.

Quick Tip: If you need help remembering which is which, think “sky-dive.” The s in systolic stands for sky which is above, and the d in diastolic stands for dive which is below. If you still can’t remember the words systolic and diastolic, you can simply refer to the top number and the bottom number. That’ll work, too.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

The risk factors for high blood pressure can be grouped into two groups, those you cannot change and those you can change.

You can’t do anything about:

  • A family history of hypertension – If your parents or other close relatives have been diagnosed with hypertension, you are more likely to develop it as well.
  • Your age or sex. The older you are, the higher your blood pressure is likely to be. Up until their mid-40s, more men are diagnosed with high blood pressure. After their mid-60s, more women are diagnosed with hypertension.
  • Your race. More than 40 percent of African-Americans have high blood pressure. Hypertension tends to develop earlier and to be more severe in African-American adults.

You can do something about:

  • Your weight. High blood pressure is associated with being overweight and obesity. In fact, approximately 50 percent of people with high blood pressure are obese. Although achieving a healthy weight range is the ideal, if you are overweight you can improve your blood pressure by losing 10 pounds.
  • Your eating habits, including your sodium intake. A diet that is low in potassium and/or high in sodium makes it more likely you will develop high blood pressure.
  • Your level of physical activity. Being physically inactive increases your risk for developing high blood pressure.
  • Your alcohol intake. Regular and heavy alcohol use can increase your blood pressure dramatically.

What Can You Do to Avoid Developing Hypertension?

  • Stay at a healthy weight. Aim for a BMI in the healthy range of 18.5 to 24.9.
  • Drink moderately. It’s best for women to drink no more than one drink per day.
  • Stay physically active.Get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or an equivalent combination each week.
  • Eat healthy amounts of fruit, vegetables, and low fat dairy. Eat at least 3 servings of fruit, 3 servings of vegetables, and 2 servings of low fat dairy products every day.
  • Keep your sodium low. Keep sodium intake below 2300 mg per day.

Come back at the end of the month for part two of our blog, to learn about pregnancy and high blood pressure, especially preeclampsia, which is a dangerous complication of pregnancy.