About 46% of Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and while you might not be able to feel it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t causing harm. Hypertension can silently damage your heart, blood vessels, kidneys and other organs—and even put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s so important to regularly check your blood pressure and to take steps to keep it in a safe range. We’ve put together a series of frequently asked questions all about blood pressure and hypertension, so you can be armed with the knowledge you need to stay healthy and keep on amazing.
Am I At Risk For High Blood Pressure?Anyone can get high blood pressure, and unfortunately, some things that raise your risk for high blood pressure are outside your control. However, there are also many risk factors that you can change to help prevent and manage high blood pressure.
Risk Factors You Can Impact
- Living a sedentary life
- Eating an unhealthy diet, especially one high in sodium
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Sleep apnea
- High cholesterol
Risks You Can’t Change
- Family history
- Age: You’re more likely to get high blood pressure as you grow older.
- Gender: Until age 64, men are more likely to get high blood pressure than women. From age 65+, women are more likely.
- Race: African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than people of any other racial background in the U.S.
- Chronic kidney disease: People with chronic kidney disease are at increased risk for high blood pressure.
How Does High Blood Pressure Affect My Body?
- Memory Loss: Damaged and restricted vessels reduce the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to the brain. This may contribute to memory loss.
- Stroke: There are two ways high blood pressure can lead to stroke. A buildup of plaque in the arteries—or clot thrown from a buildup elsewhere—can cut off blood flow to the brain. Or a weak spot in an artery can break open and leak blood into the brain.
- Eye Damage: Blocked blood flow or lack of blood flow can damage the retina or optic nerve, which can lead to complete vision loss.
- Heart Attack: Buildup of plaque—or a clot—in the arteries can cut off blood flow to part of your heart, causing a heart attack.
- Heart Failure: Narrowed arteries throughout your body can stop blood from freely traveling. This makes your heart work harder than normal, which can lead to an enlarged heart and heart failure.
- Chronic Kidney Disease: The kidneys’ job is to filter blood, so they have a lot of blood vessels. As arteries in the kidneys are damaged, less blood, oxygen and nutrients reach your kidneys—and they cannot filter effectively. If enough arteries become blocked, your kidneys may fail.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm: The aorta is the main blood vessel in the body. High blood pressure can weaken the walls of the aorta, which can cause it to become enlarged, like a balloon stretching out. This is called an aneurysm. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is a life-threatening condition.
- Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD): Narrowed or blocked peripheral arteries can hamper blood flow, particularly to the legs. PAD can lead to pain, cramping or fatigue in the leg muscles, which can cause difficulty walking. If not treated, PAD can cause gangrene and loss of a limb.
What’s Considered Healthy Blood Pressure?
- Blood pressure lower than 120/80 is considered normal and healthy.
- Blood pressure of 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic is considered elevated. People who have blood pressure within this range are more likely to end up with high blood pressure unless they take action to prevent it, according to the American Heart Association.
- Blood pressure of 130 or higher systolic or 80 or higher diastolic is considered hypertension.
What Are Signs of High Blood Pressure?While you may have no noticeable symptoms, you should see a doctor if you are experiencing:
- Severe headaches
- Fatigue or confusion
- Irregular heartbeat
- Vision issues
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Bloody urine
- Pounding in chest or head
How Can I Control My Blood Pressure?Lifestyle changes are sometimes all that is needed to take control of high blood pressure. Here are the top nine ways to take charge of your blood pressure, from the American Heart Association.
- Know Your Numbers: Blood pressure can be checked at your doctor’s office or at home. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can recommend a good device and show you how to use it if you would like to be able to check consistently at home.
- Take Your Medication As Prescribed: Has your doctor prescribed high blood pressure medication for you? Take it exactly as ordered. And don’t stop taking it unless your doctor tells you to.
- Be Careful When Taking Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medicines: Read their labels. Many OTC medicines—like ibuprofen and decongestants—can raise your blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about medicines that won’t raise your blood pressure.
- Keep A Healthy Weight: Aim for a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9. If you’re overweight, losing as little as 5 to 10 pounds could help lower your blood pressure.
- Eat Nutritiously: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Choose low-fat dairy products and lean meats, and reduce saturated and total fat in your diet.
- Reduce Sodium Intake: One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium. That’s the upper limit of what the AHA recommends for daily intake. Ideally, you should limit salt to 1,500 mg per day. Avoiding prepackaged, processed and prepared foods is a great way to reduce your sodium intake.
- Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week. Brisk walking counts. Make it simple by scheduling 30 minutes of activity at least five days a week. Exercise is safe for almost everyone, and the benefits outweigh any risks. Ease into exercise if you haven’t been active for a while. And talk to your doctor if you have a preexisting condition, like heart disease.
- Know The Risks Of Alcohol: Avoid excessive use of alcohol. If you don’t drink, don’t start.
- Don’t Smoke: Nicotine can raise your blood pressure, and both tobacco products and vaping products have it. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for help quitting.