Understanding Blood Pressure

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When your heart pumps blood throughout your body, the blood flow exerts a force (or pressure) against the walls of your arteries called blood pressure.

Healthy arteries can stretch when your heart pumps blood through them. But when your blood pressure is high all the time, the walls of your arteries become overstretched and can even tear! Tiny tears and the scar tissue they leave can trap fatty deposits. These deposits lead to hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. That’s why taking steps to reduce high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is very important. As a community, we need to take our health back into our own hands! It’s up to us to put ourselves and our families on a healthier path.

What causes high blood pressure?
There are various risk factors that contribute to high blood pressure. Some you can control, and some you can’t. For example, you can’t control your gender, race, age or family health history. But you can control your diet, sodium intake, physical activity, body weight, and alcohol consumption.

What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
Most of the time, high blood pressure has no symptoms, which is why it’s called the “silent killer.” You might look and feel healthy, but you won’t know if you have high blood pressure unless you have it measured. Starting at age 20, the American Heart Association recommends having a blood pressure screening at your regular healthcare visit or once every two years, if your blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg.

What do blood pressure readings mean?

Blood Pressure
Category
Systolic
mm Hg (upper #)
Diastolic
mm Hg (lower #)
Normal less than 120 and less than 80
Prehypertension 120139 or 8089
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
140159 or 9099
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
160 or higher or 100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis
(Emergency care needed)
Higher than 180 or Higher than 110

Are my children at risk?
Although many people don’t realize it, children can have high blood pressure too. It can be caused by certain diseases and medications, or by family history, race or excess weight. Latino children are more likely to be overweight or obese and less likely to be physically active than some other groups. Parents need to take steps to instill a healthy foundation early in their children’s lives. The American Heart Association recommends that all children have their blood pressure checked every year.

How can I control my blood pressure?
You can find information on how to manage your lifestyle on our Vida Saludable website. Getting a balanced diet and regular exercise and eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking will go a long way in controlling your blood pressure. But as mentioned above, some risk factors are out of your control. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly and to discuss how to manage it with your doctor.

For more information on blood pressure, visit heart.org/hbp.

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