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Your Guide to Understanding Blood Pressure

What does blood pressure truly represent and what is your blood pressure range telling you? Learn what blood pressure measures, when to measure it, and how to control it!

Your Guide to Understanding Blood Pressure

High blood pressure usually raises concern among the general population. But what does blood pressure truly represent and what is your blood pressure range telling you? Learn what blood pressure measures, when to measure it, and how to control it!

What Does Blood Pressure Measure?

Blood pressure (BP) measures the force of blood against artery walls as the heart pumps it. Consistently high BP, also known as hypertension, can weaken and damage blood vessels, which can lead to serious heart and health complications. High BP is broken down into primary and secondary high blood pressures:

Primary High Blood Pressure
Also known as essential high blood pressure, primary high BP is the most common. Its development may gradually occur as age advances.

Secondary High Blood Pressure
Secondary high BP develops following a medical condition or certain types of medications. Once the cause is treated, blood pressure generally goes back within normal ranges.

Additionally, there are several risk factors for developing hypertension. These include a family history of high blood pressure and people who are overweight or obese, inactive, smokers, and/or consume a high-salt diet.

How to Measure Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured with some sort of blood pressure monitor. And with advancing technology, health professionals are not the only ones able to use these devices. Self-readers can be found in grocery and drug store shelves at a fairly low price. Additionally, blood pressure kiosks are widely available in grocery stores, pharmacies, and malls and can be a useful means to track measurements between doctor visits.

Blood pressure readings includes both systolic and diastolic pressures. Systolic pressure measures the pressure with each contraction of the heart, or heartbeat. Diastolic pressure measures the pressure between each heart beat and pump. Blood pressure is read as systolic over diastolic (systolic/diastolic) millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Measurements fall into one of four categories or stages:

*Based on adults

How to Control Blood Pressure

Normal, healthy numbers are less than 120 over 80. If numbers start to rise or hypertensive readings surface, there are a variety of ways in which they can be controlled:

Be Proactive
Most individuals do not know their numbers until they have reached hypertension. Have your healthcare provider take measurements and track numbers between those doctor visits. Stay frequent and consistent with BP readings and take preventative measures to keep it within a healthy range.

Lose Weight
Excess weight can force the heart to pump harder for supplying the body with oxygenated blood. Losing weight reduces heart strain and can be achieved by following a healthy, well-balanced diet and partaking in at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.

Reduce Sodium/Salt
Although salt is not as "bad" as previously thought, its reduction has shown to run parallel with reduced blood pressure readings. Reducing prepackaged, processed foods while increasing fresh produce naturally lessens salt intake. Also skip the drive thru lines and salt shaker and prepare meals at home more often.

Limit Alcohol
Too much alcohol can result to dehydration, ultimately fluctuating BP levels. It is recommended that men have no more than two drinks per day while women should limit to one.

In some circumstances, medications are required or recommended. If blood pressure-lowering medications are needed, be sure to follow the directions as specified.

Despite proper tracking and controlling methods and efforts, self-diagnosing is not advised. If you start to notice rising numbers, seek out a healthcare professional. High BP can be harmful and an expert will provide you with the best treatment options and plans of action.

Description of High Blood Pressure. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp.