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What Is Blood Pressure?

Find Your Numbers & Learn How to Improve Them
  -- By SparkPeople Experts
You may have high blood pressure and not even know it. While 50 million Americans suffer from this affliction, 70 percent don’t have it under control. Another 45 million are at high risk of developing it. That’s a lot of people.

Are you one of them? You don’t have to be. High blood pressure is easily detectable and usually controllable.

What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm HG) and recorded as two numbers—systolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart contracts) over diastolic (pressure on the arterial walls as the heart relaxes between beats). Both numbers are important.

The following chart will help you recognize the differences between optimal and high blood pressure.

 
Blood Pressure Categories for Adults
  Systolic   Diastolic
Optimal <120 mm Hg and <80 mm Hg
Normal <130 mm Hg and <85 mm Hg
High-Normal 130-139 mm Hg or 85-89 mm Hg
       
High Stage 1 140-159 mm Hg or 90-99 mm Hg
High Stage 2 160-179 mm Hg or
 
100-109 mm Hg
High Stage 3 >180 mm Hg or >110 mm Hg


Blood pressure rises and falls during the day. But when it stays elevated over time, then it is called high blood pressure (or hypertension). High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard, and the force of the blood flow can harm your arteries. This is especially dangerous when coupled with other risks, such as high cholesterol. High blood pressure often has no warning signs or symptoms. If left uncontrolled, it can lead to heart and kidney disease, heart attack, and stroke.

But reducing your blood pressure by just 12 to 13 points can lower your risk of heart attack by 20 percent; stroke by 37 percent and cardiovascular death by 25 percent.

To lower your blood pressure, talk to your doctor first. Together you can start a treatment plan that will probably include lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, stress reduction and possible medications.