Thanks to many different awareness campaigns, most people are aware that high blood pressure (hypertension) is not healthy. But most of us know little more than that about this very serious health condition. Here’s some insights into blood pressure guidelines, why a healthy blood pressure matters, and the risks of hypertension.
What is Blood Pressure?
The cardiovascular system uses pressure to push blood around the body, and it does so very effectively. Beating at about 100,000 times a day, the heart sends blood to the brain and back in just 8 seconds, and to your toes and back in just 16. The pressure is so high in this system that the heart can spray blood 9 meters away from the body!
So, in many ways, pressure is good. But when that pressure is too high, it becomes dangerous and hazardous.
We have two types of blood pressure in our systems – systolic (when the heart contracts) and diastolic (when the heart relaxes). These are represented by the two-figure reading you get when you use a blood pressure cuff.
High blood pressure is when the top number (systolic pressure) is more than 140, when the lower number (diastolic pressure) is higher than 90, or both. So, anything above 140/90 mmHg is considered high blood pressure.
What Does High Blood Pressure Do?
When blood pressure is high, it restricts the flow of blood to your organs. This directly increases risks of developing heart disease, kidney failure, stroke and diabetes, as well as increasing the risks of heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot that researchers know about exactly why some people suffer from high blood pressure and others don’t. In fact, there are little to no symptoms for this condition, so a lot of people don’t even know they have it. As a result, it’s a good idea to have your blood pressure checked once or twice a year from when you are about 18 years old.
However, your risks are especially high for hypertension if you are overweight, a smoker, do little or no exercise, have high cholesterol, consume a lot of alcohol or follow a diet high in salt. If you have a family history of hypertension, you are also at risk of developing the same health condition.
Treating and Preventing Hypertension
Hypertension is treated through medication and monitoring, as well as lifestyle changes which can also reduce your risks of developing high blood pressure. This includes committing to regular physical activity (particularly cardio activity), stopping smoking and significantly reducing alcohol intake, getting to a healthy weight and improving your diet with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and limited salty and processed foods.
If you or your loved one are considered high risk for cardiovascular health emergencies such as SCA, it is advisable to have an AED (automated external defibrillator) in your home. When SCA occurs, the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and organs is stopped, so there is a very limited window – about 4 minutes – in which you can save the person’s life and prevent serious brain and organ damage. Learning how to perform CPR and how to use a defibrillator allows you to save a life when the victim is too far away for first responders to arrive in time.
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