High Blood Pressure
The Silent Killer

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is pressure that consistently reads above 120/80 (120 systolic pressure over 80 diastolic pressure) mm Hg (130 over 80 mm Hg if you are diabetic).

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that the blood applies generated by the heart to the walls of the arteries as it flows through them.

  • Systolic - the first number 120 - is a measure of the pressure when your heart muscle is contracting and pumping blood. This is the maximum pressure in your blood stream.
  • Diastolic - the second number 80 - is the pressure between heart beats when the heart is resting and filling with blood. This is the minimum pressure in your blood system.

If your pressure reading is consistently higher than 140 systolic and 85 diastolic, most doctors will probably want to monitor it regularly and prescribe some sort of lifestyle changes, diet changes and/or medications


High blood pressure has been described as "the silent killer" because it often occurs without symptoms. The best way to tell if you have hypertension is to have your pressure measured.

Hypertension causes undue stress to the circulation of key organs, particularly the brain, heart and kidneys leading to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

Primary hypertension:
More than 9 out of 10 people have what's called 'primary' or 'essential hypertension'. This means there's no single clear cause known, although we do know some factors to do with your lifestyle can contribute. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • Lack of exercise
  • Your diet

Secondary hypertension:
Around 1 in 20 people have 'secondary hypertension'. This means your condition can be linked to a recognized cause, it may be a symptom of another underlying disease or factor such as:

  • Kidney disease
  • Endocrine disease
  • Narrowing of the aorta
  • Steroid medicines
  • The contraceptive pill
  • Pregnancy


Managing High Blood Pressure

If you've been diagnosed with hypertension, your health care provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan, which may include lifestyle changes, medication or a combination of both.

Lifestyle changes include:

  • Achieve ideal body weight Losing weight is the most effective non-clinical way to lower your pressure.
  • Restrict salt intake The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults have no more than 2400 mg of sodium or 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt per day. Track your sodium intake by reading nutritional labels and limiting the amount of table salt you use.Limit alcohol intake Generally you should have no more than three drinks a day. However your doctor may recommend that you have fewer drinks or completely avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Quit smoking This will also help your respiratory system as well as your cardiovascular system.
  • Exercise Regular exercise and daily physical activity play a major role in the prevention of hypertension, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Exercise benefits the heart by making it beat faster and more efficiently.
  • Diet Change your diet to a low fat including fruits and vegetables.
  • Stress try to reduce stress in your life through relaxation techniques or meditation.

Medicine options include:

  • Diuretics Medicines that increase the elimination of sodium.
  • Angiotensin inhibitors and blockers Medicines that inhibit blood pressure-raising hormones.
  • Alpha and Beta blockers Medicines that work through the involuntary nervous system to decrease pressure.
  • Calcium channel blockers Medicines that reduce vessel constriction by interfering with the effects of calcium in the blood vessel wall. These do not affect blood calcium levels.
  • Vasodilators Medicines that lower blood pressure by dilating arteries to decrease overall pressure in the circulatory system.

As most people with high blood pressure don't have any symptoms, they are diagnosed when they have their pressure taken as part of a medical examination. This is just one more good reason to have a regular check-up with your doctor, especially if you are over 50.

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