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What is hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. Commonly called “pressure” in Jamaica, it is a risk factor for heart and kidney diseases as well as strokes. This means that having high blood pressure increases your chance (or risk) of getting heart or kidney disease, or having a stroke.

How blood pressure is measured

Normal blood pressure falls within a range; it’s not one set of numbers. When the heart beats, it pumps blood to the arteries and creates pressure in them. This pressure (blood pressure) results from two forces. The first force is created as blood pumps into the arteries and through the circulatory system. The second is created as the arteries resist the force of the blood flow.
If you’re healthy, your arteries are muscular and elastic. They stretch when your heart pumps blood through them. How much they stretch depends on how much force the blood exerts.

The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats. The systolic pressure is always stated first and the diastolic pressure second. For example: 122/76 (122 over 76); systolic = 122, diastolic = 76.

Blood pressure of less than 140 over 90 is considered a normal reading for adults. A systolic pressure of 130 to 139 or a diastolic pressure of 85 to 89 needs to be watched carefully. A blood pressure reading equal to or greater than 140 (systolic) over 90 (diastolic) is considered elevated or high.

Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. Your blood pressure can change from minute to minute, with changes in posture, exercise or sleeping, but it should normally be less than 140/90 mm Hg for an adult.

Occurrence of high blood pressure

High blood pressure can occur in children or adults, but it’s more common among people over age 35. It’s particularly common in black, middle-aged and elderly people, obese people, heavy drinkers, smokers and women who are taking birth control pills. It may run in families, but many people with a strong family history of high blood pressure never have it. People with diabetes mellitus, gout or kidney disease are more likely to have hypertension also.

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. It doesn’t refer to being tense, nervous or hyperactive. You can be a calm, relaxed person and still have high blood pressure. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked! A blood pressure test is quick and painless.
A single reading showing high blood pressure doesn’t mean you are suffering with hypertension, but it’s a sign that you need to watch it carefully and have it re-checked. If your blood pressure is normal, get it checked at least every two years. If your blood pressure is near the top of the normal range, or if you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’re at higher risk. Your doctor will tell you how often to have it checked.

Why is high blood pressure harmful?

When blood pressure is elevated for an extended period of time, the inner linings of the arteries become damaged. This leaves them susceptible to the build-up of fatty deposits that can narrow or block the arteries and reduce blood flow to the body’s organs. When untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, and loss of vision from damage to the retina at the back of the eye.

How Can You Help Prevent High Blood Pressure

Everyone—regardless of race, sex, age, or heredity can help lower his/her chances of developing high blood pressure. Here’s how:

  • Maintain a healthy weight, lose weight if you are overweight
  • Be more physically active
  • Choose foods lower in salt and sodium, and
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation
  • Stop or don’t start smoking
  • By following these guidelines, you can help reduce or prevent high blood pressure for life and in turn, lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

How is high blood pressure treated?

If the pressure is consistently high, this will require a change in diet and physical activity to reduce weight. It may also require taking medications daily for the rest of one’s life.

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