Blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body.
Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers – 120 over 80 for example – and written as 120/80 mmHg. The top number is called the systolic blood pressure and the bottom is called the diastolic blood pressure. One or both of these numbers can be too high.
What Do These Numbers Mean?
It is normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate based on the time of day. With that in mind:
- If your blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg or most of the time, it is considered to be normal
- If your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or higher most of the time, it is considered high blood pressure or hypertension
- If your blood pressure is over 120/80 mmHg, but below 140/90 mmHg most of the time, it is considered pre-hypertension
Hypertension Risk Factors
There are many factors that affect blood pressure including:
- The amount of salt and water in your body
- Your hormone levels
- The condition of your kidneys, nervous system, or blood vessels
You have a higher risk of blood pressure if you:
- Are of African American descent
- Have a family history of high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
- Are a smoker
- Are obese
- Drink too much alcohol (more than one drink per day for women; more than two drinks per day for men)
- Consume too much salt in your diet
- Are often stressed or anxious
Why is High Blood Pressure Dangerous?
High blood pressure is dangerous because it adds to your heart’s workload and over time, your heart may become enlarged and not be able to meet your body’s needs.
High blood pressure also affects your arteries. The arteries harden as we get older and high blood pressure accelerates this process. Sometimes hardened arteries can become narrowed by a buildup of plaque. This condition is called atherosclerosis. If left unchecked, this can lead to chest pain, heart disease, heart attack, or even death.
What Can I do About High Blood Pressure?
The good news is that high blood pressure is preventable, treatable, and there are many things you can do to control your blood pressure including:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet and drinking plenty of water
- Exercising regularly, reducing stress, and maintaining a healthy body weight
- Limiting your salt and alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
If you think you may have, or be at risk for high blood pressure, consult your primary care physician or visit UPMC’s Heart and Vascular Institute.