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Every time your heart beats, it pushes blood through your arteries and the rest of your body. The force that is created by the blood pressing against the arterial walls is called blood pressure. There are two types of pressures.
Systolic Pressure occurs when the heart contracts or beats to move blood through your body. This contraction increases the pressure.
Diastolic pressure occurs when the heart muscle is relaxing or in other words, in between the heart contractions. It is the lowest point in pressure because your heart is at rest.
When your blood pressure is measured, the systolic pressure is compared to the diastolic pressure. That's why blood pressure readings are always reported in pairs of numbers – for example, 120/80 mmHg. The first number refers to the maximum pressure exerted by the blood flow (systolic pressure), and the second number refers to the resting pressure (diastolic pressure).
When your blood pressure is elevated over a long period of time, this is called hypertension or high blood pressure. Anyone can develop hypertension regardless of age, gender, or race. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, high blood pressure does not necessarily refer to hyperactive, tense, or nervous personality types; calm and relaxed people are just as vulnerable.
Primary (or essential) hypertension is when the cause is unknown. The majority of hypertension cases are primary. When there is an underlying problem such as kidney disease or hormonal derangements that can cause hypertension, it is called secondary hypertension. When it is possible to correct the underlying cause, high blood pressure usually improves or may even return to normal.
Other factors that can contribute to hypertension include:
- Age (blood pressure usually increases with age)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Lack of exercise
- Sleep apnea
Monitoring your Blood Pressure
Blood pressure can be measured by using a blood pressure meter and arm cuff. The blood pressure cuff is placed around the upper arm. A stethoscope is placed on the artery to listen for the pulse. The cuff is inflated to 180 mmHg to press the artery flat. As the pressure of the cuff is slowly released, the first pulse that is heard is the systolic pressure. As the pressure is released further and the cuff deflates, the sound will disappear. At that point, your diastolic reading is recorded.
Healthy adults should have their blood pressure verified at least once a year and it is recommended that people with other health conditions monitor their blood pressure regularly. Some people are nervous or anxious when they see their doctor. Therefore, blood pressure readings may be a bit high when taken at the doctor’s office. A more accurate reading can be taken at home when you are calm and relaxed.
Treatment and prevention
To prevent hypertension and heart disease, here are some healthy lifestyle tips:
- Stop smoking
- Lose weight
- Cut down on your salt consumption
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, grains, and fiber
- Control alcohol intake (no more than 2 drinks per day to a maximum of 9 per week for women or 14 per week for men)
- Get regular physical activity (30 to 45 minutes of activity most days of the week)
It is important for people to know their blood pressure in mm Hg and the importance of keeping it controlled. The evidence suggests that even a small increase in blood pressure can cause a significant change in life expectancy.