Blood pressure refers to the amount of force needed to circulate the blood through the blood vessels. In people with high blood pressure, more force than “normal” is required to keep blood flowing, and the additional pressure can cause damage to the vessel walls and organs including the heart, kidneys and brain. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and each measurement includes two numbers – the first or top number represents the pressure exerted while the heart is beating while the second or lower number reflects the pressure exerted inside the vessels when the heart rests between beats. Pressures exceeding 120/80 mm Hg are considered to be high or above normal in most people.
Many factors can cause or contribute to high blood pressure (also called hypertension). One of the most common causes is a condition called atherosclerosis that occurs when sticky cholesterol builds up inside the vessels, forming plaques that cling to vessel walls. Over time, these plaques can grow larger, inhibiting the flow of blood so more pressure is required to keep blood moving. High blood pressure is also more common among people who:
Without proper treatment, high blood pressure increases the risks of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, kidney damage and cognitive issues like Alzheimer's disease. People with hypertension and those with risk factors for high blood pressure should have frequent screenings to ensure their blood pressure remains within normal ranges.
High blood pressure treatment typically involves taking medication to keep blood pressure under control combined with lifestyle changes like losing excess weight, quitting smoking, being more physically active and eating a healthier diet with more fiber and less sodium. Routine screenings ensure treatment remains optimized for each patient's needs.
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