Hypertension or high blood pressure is a condition in which the blood pressure – the amount of force required to pump blood through your blood vessels – exceeds normal levels. Over time, this increased pressure can cause damage to the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes and other organs, as well as causing heart attacks and strokes. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). “Normal” blood pressure for adults is considered to be around 120/80 mm Hg, but that number can vary based on age and other factors.
Hypertension can be diagnosed using a blood pressure cuff which measures the pressure of blood in your arm, or sometimes, your ankle. As the cuff is slowly inflated, the pressure of blood pulsing through your arm or leg can be measured on the cuff's dial or screen. Blood pressure cuffs are designed to measure the pressure of the blood when the heart beats (systolic), and when it rests in between beats (diastolic). For most people, high blood pressure causes no symptoms until organ damage occurs, which means it's vitally important to be screened on a regular basis.
Yes, high blood pressure has been associated with several risk factors, including older age; being overweight or obese; having a sedentary lifestyle; smoking; poor diet, especially one that's high in sodium (salt); drinking too much alcohol, and having a family history of high blood pressure. Chronic stress and sleep problems like obstructive sleep apnea can also increase the risk of high blood pressure in some people.
Some mild cases of hypertension may be managed with lifestyle changes like losing excess weight, cutting back on the amount of sodium you consume, quitting smoking and being more physically active. When these changes aren't effective, medication can be used to help keep blood pressure within normal levels. Being screened on a regular basis is the best way to ensure your treatment is effective in keeping your blood pressure under control.
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