This post was written in collaboration with Maureen Sullivan, RN.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition regarding the force of the blood against artery walls.
Think of about in terms of water, which represents your blood, in a garden hose, which represents your artery walls. You want just the right amount of water flow flowing through your garden hose so that you can water your plants—which in the case of this metaphor can represent your bodily organs that need the oxygen and nutrients from your blood.
You don’t want too much pressure from the water in your garden hose, otherwise the hose can get damaged and break down, and your delicate plants get hit with a high pressured stream of water, which can be permanently damaging.
In the same way, when your blood pressure is higher than normal (also known as hypertension), your arteries and your organs can be damaged. When elevated significantly, hypertension may eventually cause health problems such as heart disease.
How Common is Hypertension?
Hypertension is a very common chronic medical condition, in both developing countries and industrialized nations. According to the American Heart Association, more than 80 million Americans, age 20 and older — or 1 in 3 adults — have high blood pressure. Nearly half of these people do not have it under control. The incidence increases with age, and Americans have a lifetime risk of 90% – meaning that if you live long enough, you most likely will develop hypertension.
Worldwide, in the year 2000, 1 billion people were diagnosed with high blood pressure. By 2005, this number rose to 1.5 billion people.
Hypertension = the Silent Killer — > Low Awareness
Although hypertension can take years to develop, it is often “silent” in nature, meaning it doesn’t produce warning signs or symptoms. Damage to the body is done in a silent fashion. Since most people don’t regularly check blood pressure they are not even aware that they have high blood pressure readings and are thus, at higher risk for heart disease or stroke.
Some people may experience dull headaches, dizzy spells or nosebleeds due to high blood pressure. Unfortunately, most people do not know they have high blood pressure until the numbers reach a potentially life threatening level.
What Do These Numbers Look Like?
Blood pressure is written as two numbers, such as 118/78 mm Hg. The top number, systolic, is the pressure when the heart beats. The bottom number, diastolic, is the pressure when the heart rests between beats. A “normal blood pressure” is 119/79 or below. Hypertension is considered 140/90 or above.
Normal – Congrats, you’re as healthy as a horse, keep doing what you’re doing!
Prehypertension and Hypertension stage 1 – These stages are a warning sign. It means your BP is not that good and may increase to a dangerous level.
Hypertension stage 2 – You’re already in a major risk group, unfortunately. Your BP is not in good shape and you can easily get dragged into a hypertensive crisis. The good news are, you can start taking drugs and do tiny changes to get out of this stage.
Hypertensive crisis – It means your BP is really high. If this is your regular average BP and your doctor knows about it, find out what you can do to lower it! If you just took a reading and it’s much higher than usual, reach out to medical assistance now.
What is Pre-Hypertension?
If you’re an adult and your systolic pressure is 120 to 139, or your diastolic pressure is 80 to 89 (or both) you have “pre-hypertension” and should be treated aggressively to reduce the risk of further injury.
Is Hypertension Really Dangerous?
Well… actually yes. As high blood pressure induces few symptoms, most people don’t know they’ve reached a Hypertensive crisis. High blood pressure is the main or secondary cause of 75% of all strokes and heart attacks. Self-tracking your blood pressure (iOS, Android) will help make an early diagnosis.
What Can You Do About Your Heart Risk?
While you can’t control your predisposition to hypertension because of family history, there are a number of measures you can control through simple lifestyle changes that can make a significant impact on blood pressure.
- Reduce sodium intake in your diet. Excessive amounts of sodium can cause fluid retention, causing blood pressure elevations.
- Increase daily activity. Lack of physical activity can increase body weight and affect blood pressure levels. Inactivity can also produce elevated stress levels, which can affect blood pressure readings.
- Smoking reduction or cessation. Tobacco can temporarily raise pressure readings.
- Maintain good health. Many chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea can all negatively impact hypertension. Regular medical examinations, medication compliance, and improved good health behaviors will also reduce your risk of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke.
- Track your blood pressure using at home blood pressure monitor and an app (iOS, Android). How else would you know if any diet, exercise or lifestyle changes that you make are truly helping you?
Empower yourself and be more proactive about your health!
About the Guest Author Maureen Sullivan
Maureen Sullivan is a RN, diabetic educator and humorist. ( and former stroke program manager). She hosts a weekly radio show “The Health and Humor Show“, injecting humor into the healthcare arena. Laughter is the best medicine. Her goal is to both entertain and educate on a variety of health care topics.