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Blood Pressure: Know Your Numbers

High blood pressure can also lead to kidney failure, aneurysm (weakening or bulging of blood vessel walls), damaged blood vessels in the eyes, and vascular dementia (the second leading cause of memory loss and thinking problems). In addition, people with high blood pressure may also suffer from sleep issues, such as sleep apnea, sexual dysfunction, and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).

Unfortunately, many people don't know that they have high blood pressure, and many others don't realize how serious it can be. Treatment can lower blood pressure, yet less than half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control. And it's not just a concern for older adults: nearly 10% of males and 8% of females aged 20-44 suffer from high blood pressure today. That's why it's important for adults of all ages to know the risks of high blood pressure, and understand what steps they can take to prevent it or manage it more effectively.

What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries (blood vessels), which carry the blood throughout the body. When your blood pressure is high, the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the body. This may contribute to hardening of the arteries and to the development of heart failure.

What Is "Normal" Blood Pressure?
A blood pressure reading has a top number (systolic) and bottom number (diastolic). What is currently considered normal may change based on your individual situation, so we recommend that you speak with your doctor. The typical ranges are:

  • Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
  • Pre-hypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above
  • High blood pressure in people over age 60: 150 and above over 90 and above


Can High Blood Pressure Be Prevented?
The exact causes of high blood pressure are not known, but family history, age, kidney disease, and adrenal or thyroid disorders may all play a role. However, there are many risk factors that can be managed with lifestyle changes, including:

  • Diet: Each a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables

  • Sodium: Sodium increases blood pressure in some people, but avoiding processed foods or using too much salt can help

  • Exercise: Make regular physical activity a priority

  • Weight: If you are overweight, losing just a little weight can make a big difference

  • Stress: Reduce stress and learn what stress management techniques work for you

  • Smoking: Don't smoke or quit smoking

  • Medication: Take all prescribed medications as directed by your doctor

  • Alcohol: Limit alcohol consumption to one or two drinks per day.


To learn more about your overall heart health, take our free Heart Health Profiler now.

Not sure what your blood pressure is? Find out with a free blood pressure screening. El Camino Health offers free blood pressure screenings every week at the Health Library & Resource Center at our Mountain View Hospital.

This article first appeared in the May 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.