Blood pressure is a measure of the force that blood exerts against the artery walls as the heart pumps it through the body. As long as blood pressure remains in the normal range, it is generally an indicator of good health. But as blood pressure gets too high or too low, it can be a warning sign of a health problem and might lead to additional complications in the body. Dangerous low blood pressure is rare, but high blood pressure, also called hypertension, is common and a major health risk factor in the United States. About a third of American adults have high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Readings
Blood pressure is typically measured with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope at a doctor’s office or clinic. The measurement contains two numbers. The top number is known as the systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure of the blood when the heart is beating. The bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure, which is the blood pressure when the heart is at rest. For systolic pressure, anything lower than 120 is normal; 120 to 139 is called prehypertension; 140 to 159 is stage 1 hypertension; 160 or higher is stage 2 hypertension; and 180 or above is a medical emergency. For diastolic blood pressure, anything lower than 80 is normal; 80 to 89 is prehypertension; 90 to 99 is stage 1 hypertension; 100 or higher is stage 2 hypertension; and 110 or above is a medical emergency.
Problems With Blood Pressure
The main health risks related to blood pressure stem from high blood pressure. It can be particularly concerning because high blood pressure can be present for years without presenting any symptoms. That’s why it’s important to get blood pressure checked regularly. Over time, high blood pressure can contribute to health problems such as heart failure, stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and more.
Blood pressure can often be managed by following a healthy diet, exercising, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and coping with stress. A variety of medications also are available to help with lowering blood pressure. Most of the drugs work well with few side effects. Just a few of the many types of blood-pressure-lowering drugs include alpha blockers, beta blockers, diuretics and calcium channel blockers, among others. Individuals should work closely with their doctor to find the right medicine for any blood pressure problems.
SOURCES: U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; American Heart Association
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