Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Your blood pressure usually varies throughout day, rising and falling to slightly different levels. High blood pressure occurs when blood pressure stays elevated over time.
High blood pressure can occur in both children and adults, but it is more common in adults, particularly African Americans, overweight people, people who drink heavily (defined as more than two drinks a day for men), the elderly and middle-aged people (individuals over 50 years old). Men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure until women reach menopause, when they're at greater risk.
Overall, one in three American adults has high blood pressure. It often has no warning signs or symptoms. Once high blood pressure develops, it usually lasts a lifetime, so, it's important to try to prevent it.
The only way to properly check your blood pressure is to measure it with a device called a , commonly called a blood pressure cuff. This is a quick and painless test in which a rubber cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated. As the cuff inflates, it compresses a large artery, stopping the blood's flow through that artery. When your health care professional releases the air in the cuff, he or she can listen with a stethoscope for the blood to start flowing through your artery. Your health care professional can watch the sphygmomanometer gauge to determine systolic pressure—the pressure when the first sound of pulsing blood is heard—and the diastolic pressure, the pressure when the last sound of pulsing blood is heard.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). For example, a blood pressure measurement of 120/80 mm hg (millimeters of mercury) is expressed verbally as "120 over 80." Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Between 120/80 mm hg and 139/89 mm hg is considered prehypertension.
Even slightly elevated blood pressure can increase your risk for developing heart disease. High blood pressure, or hypertension (140/90 mm hg or above), greatly increases your risk for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
You can help prevent or control high blood pressure by:
- Eating healthfully
- Reducing salt in your diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Being physically active
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Quitting smoking
- Taking blood pressure-lowering medication as prescribed by your health care professional.