High blood pressure (HBP), also sometimes referred to as hypertension, is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Currently, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States and stroke is number three. In addition to heart attack and stroke, HBP also causes damage to other major organs such as your kidneys. It’s estimated that more than one-third of all adults in the United States suffer from HBP. Another one in four are at risk for developing HPB and suffer from pre-hypertension.
Blood pressure measures the amount of force that is exerted against artery walls as the heart beats. It’s generally expressed as a ratio of two numbers, such as 120/80 or 140/90. The top number, or systolic blood pressure, measures the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, or beats. The bottom number, or diastolic blood pressure, represents the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rests, or in between heart beats. The American Heart Association categorizes blood pressure levels as follows:
• Normal - systolic, less than 120; diastolic, less than 80
• Pre-hypertension - systolic, 120 - 139; diastolic, 80 - 89
• High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1 - systolic, 140 - 159; diastolic, 90 - 99
• High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2 - systolic 160 or higher; diastolic, 100 or higher
• Hypertensive crises - systolic, higher than 180; diastolic, higher than 110; immediate emergency care is required for persons in hypertensive crises.
Blood pressure tends to naturally increase as you age so even if you currently enjoy good blood pressure, you should monitor it regularly and take preventative actions that safeguard against developing HBP. For those over the age of 50 years, an increase in systolic blood pressure signals a major increase in the risk of developing cardiovascular or heart disease. Approximately 50 percent of all adults over the age of 60 years suffer from HBP.