Reviewed by Andrew M. Freeman, MD, FACC, FACP

Hypertension is also called high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 85 million people in the United States have high blood pressure.

Hypertension and heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, are common health problems around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that sodium in processed food plays a role in hypertension.

Seeking treatment for hypertension is the most common reason for visiting a doctor’s office and for using long-term prescription medications.

About half of people with hypertension do not have acceptable blood pressure control.

The heart is a fist-sized organ that beats about 100,000 times per day and pumps about five quarts of blood per minute. When the heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes blood through arteries, veins and capillaries. When the heart has to work extra hard to pump blood, and the arteries strain to carry blood throughout the body, it causes high blood pressure or hypertension.

 

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured by looking at two numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure (the top number) occurs as blood is pumped out of the heart and into the arteries. Normal systolic blood pressure is 120 or less mmHg. Elevated systolic blood pressure is 120 to 129 mmHg.

  • Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is created as the heart rests between heartbeats. Normal diastolic blood pressure is 80 or less mmHg. Elevated diastolic blood pressure is more than 80 mmHg.

 

Hypertension or high blood pressure:

Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure levels reach the following:
  • Stage 1 — Systolic 130 to 139 mmHg or diastolic 80 to 89 mmHg

  • Stage 2 — Systolic at least 140 mmHg or diastolic at least 90 mmHg

In people over age 40, the systolic pressure number is more important, because it increases our risk of having a heart attack, stroke or artery disease in the leg.

Younger people need to watch the diastolic number. A high number may indicate they will develop high blood pressure when they are older.

High blood pressure puts you at a higher risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, loss of vision and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).

 

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