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image While a growing number of Americans are seeking treatment for high blood pressure (hypertension), many adults remain unaware that they have it. High blood pressure is a leading cause of life-threatening conditions such as stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.

Blood pressure numbers measure the force with which blood is pumped out of the heart. Hypertension occurs when blood moves through the arteries at a higher-than-normal pressure. That pressure is recorded as two numbers—the systolic pressure (top number) reflects pressure when the heart beating, while the diastolic pressure (bottom number) reflects pressure when the heart is relaxing between beats.

In 2003, a prestigious report of the Joint National Committee (JNC7) recommended blood pressure targets for Americans. According to JNC7 recommendations, normal blood pressure is below 120/80. The report also identified pre hypertension as a reading from 120/80 to 140/90 and recommended lifestyle improvements to prevent blood pressure increases in persons who are prehypertensive. These lower blood pressure targets were aimed at identifying individuals at risk for hypertension earlier, in order to prevent or delay the disease.

Hypertension is the most common primary diagnosis among Americans. Although the cause of most cases of hypertension are not known, things like alcohol consumption, older age, and obesity are risk factors. Weight reduction has been shown to help lower blood pressure. Other highly beneficial practices include adopting a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat diary, reducing alcohol and sodium, and engaging in daily exercise.

Many people will need to take two or more medications to achieve complete control of blood pressure, although sometimes these can be given as a single “combination pill”. Following the recommendations above (especially increasing exercise and reducing sodium and weight) will help to ensure maximum drug effectiveness. Most people can take blood pressure drugs with few side effects and have an excellent prospect of improving the length and quality of their lives. With discipline and careful monitoring, you and your doctor can work together to appropriately manage and treat hypertension.

  • American Heart Association

    http://heart.org

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

    http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov

  • Canadian Cardiovascular Society

    http://www.ccs.ca

  • Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

    http://www.heartandstroke.com

  • Blood pressure measurement and monitoring. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated September 9, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2013

  • Hypertension. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 17, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2013.

  • The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC-7): http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension//jnc7full.pdf. Accessed October 18, 2013.