American Heart Month: Understanding Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is a major contributor to your overall heart health. This American Heart Month, we’re taking a deep dive into what blood pressure numbers and categories mean, what causes high blood pressure and what you might do to get your own blood pressure back under control.
With high blood pressure comes an increased threat of stroke, heart attack and heart failure, among other serious health concerns, so learning how to lower yours leads to health benefits – and a higher quality of life.
Understanding Blood Pressure Ranges
The American Heart Association maintains a chart that outlines healthy versus unhealthy blood pressure ranges. If you suspect you have high blood pressure, visit your doctor so that he or she can make a formal diagnosis and make recommendations about how to lower it.
Understanding Blood Pressure Categories
The American Heart Association recognizes five different blood pressure categories, which are as follows.
Doctors consider it within the “normal” range if your blood pressure falls below 120/80 MM Hg. If yours falls into this category, continuing eating right and exercising to keep your numbers within this healthy range.
Having elevated blood pressure places you at an increased risk for developing high blood pressure down the line. Elevated blood pressure levels typically range from 120 and 129 systolic and are under 80 mm Hg diastolic.
Hypertension Stage 1
Once you enter Hypertension Stage 1, you face an even higher risk of a heart attack or stroke. If your blood pressure is somewhere in the ballpark of 130 and 139, systolic, and 80 and 89 mm Hg diastolic, you may need to take blood pressure drugs in addition to making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension Stage 2
Once your blood pressure reaches Hypertension Stage 2, the chances of you needing both blood pressure medication and major lifestyle changes increase further. In this range, your numbers typically fall somewhere around 140/90 mm Hg or even higher.
The most dangerous of all blood pressure ranges, hypertensive crisis means your blood pressure levels are exceeding 180/120 mm Hg. After a reading this high, wait five minutes and then test your blood pressure again. If it remains high, seek immediate medical attention.
Health Issues Linked to High Blood Pressure
Many serious, potentially life-threatening health issues result from high blood pressure. Some are as follows.
Heart Attack/Heart Disease
Having high blood pressure decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. This can lead to a host of serious problems including chest pains, heart attacks and even heart failure.
Just as high blood pressure can restrict the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, it can also do the same to your brain. When the brain does not receive enough blood or oxygen, it raises the risk of a stroke. Stroke, in turn, has the potential to impact speech, movement and overall quality of life. In some cases, strokes may also prove fatal.
A clear link also exists between having high blood pressure and developing chronic kidney disease. You may face an especially high risk of kidney disease if you have high blood pressure and are also diabetic.
Many people live with high blood pressure without even knowing they do so. If you are unsure about your blood pressure numbers or category, meet with your health care team to learn more. In the meantime, know that exercising, abstaining from smoking, eating right and keeping stress levels manageable are all important steps toward lowering your blood pressure – and reducing your risk of cardiovascular and other health issues.