Blood pressure refers to the force it takes to move blood through the vessels and it's measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The measurement includes two numbers: the first number is the systolic pressure, or the pressure when the heart is contracting; the second is the diastolic pressure, which is the force of the blood while the heart rests between beats. In most people, normal blood pressure is considered to be a pressure below 120/80 mm Hg, and pressures exceeding that figure are considered to be high. Because high blood pressure usually causes no symptoms on its own, the only way to tell if blood pressure is high is to have regular blood pressure screenings using a blood pressure cuff.
Without appropriate treatment, high blood pressure (or hypertension) is a risk factor for several serious medical issues, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage, and dementia.
Some of the most common factors contributing to high blood pressure include:
Some people with mildly increased blood pressure may be able to bring their pressures down to normal levels with lifestyle changes, including losing weight, eating a healthier diet low in sodium and fats and high in fiber, and being more physically active. But many people will need to have medication in order to lower their pressure to normal levels. In addition, it's important to have frequent blood pressure screenings to ensure blood pressure remains under control. The CDC reports about a third of Americans have high blood pressure, and many don't even know it.
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