Blood pressure refers to the amount of force that needs to be exerted to keep blood circulating throughout the body. The force of blood as it circulates exerts pressure on the blood vessels. If that pressure exceeds normal levels, it can damage the vessels and the tissues and organs they provide with blood. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The cuff used to measure blood pressure returns two values – one for the pressure exerted when the heart is beating (systolic pressure) and one for the pressure exerted while the heart rests between beats (diastolic pressure). Generally, a pressure at or below 120/80 mm Hg is considered normal, while a pressure at or above 140/90 mm Hg is considered high. High blood pressure is also referred to as hypertension.
High blood pressure is more common among people who:
Hypertension can also be caused by chronic and significant stress, and people who have sleep apnea are also more likely to have high blood pressure.
Hypertension almost never causes symptoms on its own, and many people have no idea they have high blood pressure until a serious medical event like a heart attack or stroke occurs. Having blood pressure measured on a routine basis is the best way to identify the condition so it can be treated as soon as possible.
High blood pressure is typically treated with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, losing excess weight, being more physically active, and eating a diet low in unhealthy fats and high in fiber. Without treatment, hypertension increases the risks of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, vision loss, and dementia.
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