High Blood Pressure
High Blood Pressure
This handout gives you simple steps to lower your blood pressure or to keep your blood pressure within the normal range.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of arteries. It is recorded as two numbers. The systolic is the upper number (i.e., 120). It occurs as the heart beats. The diastolic is the lower number (i.e., 80). It that occurs as the heart rests between beats. This would be written as 120/80 or spoken of as 120 over 80. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less. Blood pressure is measured by a device called a sphygmomanometer.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is diagnosed when your blood pressure remains at or above 140/90 for 2 or more readings taken at different times.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension means you have a blood pressure at or above 140/90 on a routine basis. This is a very common yet serious illness. It is often called a silent disease because in the early stages it rarely has any symptoms. People do not feel ill. If not treated, it makes the heart work too hard causing the walls of the arteries to become hard. This can lead to heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, and blindness.
High blood pressure can happen to anyone despite of age, sex, or race. Experts believe that one in four American adults has high blood pressure. Once it occurs, it often lasts a lifetime. You can prevent and control high blood pressure by taking action.
What Causes Hypertension?
The cause of high blood pressure is not always known. It can be caused by arteries becoming narrow, a greater than normal blood volume, and the heart beating faster or harder than it should.
There are risk factors for high blood pressure. Some are out of your control. They are called unmodifiable risk factors. These include:
- Family history of high blood pressure: If close family members (parents, siblings) have had high blood pressure, you may also.
- Family history of heart disease in males under age 55 and in females under age 65.
- Race: African Americans have high blood pressure earlier and more often than Caucasians. It can be more severe.
- Gender and age: High blood pressure is more common in men over the age of 55 and woman over the age of 60.
Some risk factors for high blood pressure can be improved in your favor. These are called modifiable risk factors. They include:
- Weight: If you are overweight. If you are overweight by 20% or more of the recommended body weight, you are more likely to have high blood pressure.
- Sodium (salt) sensitivity: If you are salt-sensitive, you hold water after eating salty foods or have a drop in blood pressure when salt is limited. Most Americans eat 2-3 times more sodium than they need. Not all people with high blood pressure get increases in their blood pressure when using too much salt.
- High cholesterol: High levels in the body cause fat to build up and clog your arteries. This limits the space for blood to flow and increases your blood pressure. Most Americans eat a diet with too much cholesterol and saturated fats.
- Using tobacco: This causes certain chemicals (norepinephrine) to be released in your body. These cause your blood vessels to narrow which can raise your blood pressure. Nicotine replacement therapies (eg. patch, gum) are much less likely to cause this rise in blood pressure.
- Alcohol: Binge drinking and routine heavy alcohol use (more than 2 drinks per day) raises blood pressure. This also interferes with the way some blood pressure drugs work.
- Inactive life style: Inactive persons have a 20-50% greater risk of having high blood pressure when compared to persons who are active. Lack of activity may also result in being overweight. If you do not exercise, you will not burn off extra calories.
- Oral contraceptives and hormones used to treat menopause: These may increase blood pressure in some women.
Effective Ways to Manage Hypertension
Making changes in your life style are the first ways to manage high blood pressure. These include:
- Lose weight: This is the single most important way to lower blood pressure. A loss of even 5-10 pounds of weight can lower your blood pressure. The DASH diet (“Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”) is one diet that may be helpful. The DASH diet is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, and low in salt. It is rich in fruits and vegetables. This diet is low in saturated and total fat including low fat dairy products. If you need help with weight loss or would like details on the DASH diet, ask your health care provider or visit a dietician.
- Lower your salt use: Eating foods that have too much salt in them or adding too much salt at the table can raise your blood pressure. You may want to remove the salt shaker from the table. Try using other spices to flavor your food. Ask your doctor, nurse, or dietician for details on lowering salt.
- Exercise regularly: The Surgeon General’s report of 1995 recommended 30 minutes, most days of the week. The Institute of Medicine suggests 1 hour of moderate activity every day of the week. These two guidelines were based on what are the best benefits from exercise and how to prevent gaining weight. Aerobic exercise is best. This includes walking briskly, swimming, jogging, and cross country skiing. If you cannot do this type of exercise, there are other options your health care team can give you to increase your physical activity level. Do not start an exercise program or increase your present activity level without first talking with your health care provider.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink: Do not drink more than two beers, two glasses of wine, or two mixed drinks a day. These amounts are equal in alcohol strength: 24 ounces of beer = 8 ounces of wine = 2 ounces of 100 proof whiskey.
- Stop using tobacco: There are many options to help people stop using tobacco if you are not able to quit on your own. Smoking cessation classes, hypnosis, pills to help you quit smoking, nicotine patches, sprays, inhalers, lozenges, and gum have helped many people quit. There is also the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line. This provides advice and self help tools, and can refer you to local quit smoking programs. The Quit Line number is toll-free 1-877-270-7867 (STOP). Ask your health care team for details.
These are ways to manage your high blood pressure with lifestyle changes. Discuss this with your doctor or nurse to see how you may best work these changes into your routine.
Be sure you take any medicine you were given to control your blood pressure as ordered. If you need more details, call your health care provider.
The Spanish version of this Health Facts for You is #7236.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/10/2012
Copyright © 04/10/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4462
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