Blood Pressure

Summary:  What is blood pressure? High blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. If you suffer from hypertension there is plenty you can do about it.

Almost invariably, every time you visit a health care professional you’re asked to roll up your sleeve to have your blood pressure taken. Usually you’re relieved when you find out that your blood pressure is normal: 120 over 80 (120/80). Perhaps you’re one of the lucky folks who are 105/65mmHg (mm of mercury). Or maybe you’re about to receive a mini lecture about your elevated blood pressure: 160/90. You know which numbers are good and which are bad, but what do these numbers mean?


Blood pressure is defined as the pressure the blood exerts against the walls of the arteries while your blood is being pumped through the body. This pressure is at its highest each time your heart beats (60-70 times per minute while at rest). This is represented by the systolic number, the higher number of the two numbers that comprise your blood pressure. The lower number, the diastolic, represents the rest your heart takes between each beat.

While low blood pressure can cause its own problems, it has to be pretty low and consistently low over a long period of time for it to be considered serious. Primarily what doctors and their patients are concerned with is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Anyone with a blood pressure rating of 140/90 or higher is considered to have high blood pressure. There are many things that can effect blood pressure such as certain medications, anxiety and panic attacks, even ingredients in some over the counter cold medicine, so if you are diagnosed with hypertension it’s important to let your doctor know about any of these things. Something very important to remember: hypertension does not just put you at risk for heart disease and stroke, it also puts you at risk for kidney disease, so it’s very important to seek treatment immediately.

If you are one of the millions of Americans who suffer from high blood pressure, there’s plenty that you can do about it. Before even thinking about medication, if you smoke you should give it up pronto. Although smoking itself doesn’t cause high blood pressure, it can temporarily raise your already elevated blood pressure – something you certainly don’t need. Also, smoking can damage the linings of the arteries and will make your heart rate increase. Smoking also makes the arteries more rigid, causing them to react slower to blood pressure changes. Since smoking taxes the heart and circulatory system in general, hypertension is likely to be more pronounced in smokers.

Paying attention to sodium intake is probably the primary factor that each individual can do to help get hypertension under control. Although recently there has been some debate as to how much – if any – effect salt plays in blood pressure, a study by the New England Journal of Medicine claims that by lowering one’s salt intake, medications sometimes can be completely eliminated. By following what is referred to as the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, many can lower their blood pressure without drugs. And since the Dash diet is also low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and total fat, it will help you feel good and look good too.

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