When you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, you are at risk of major health problems. Hypertension is one of the leading causes of heart disease, heart failure, stroke and chronic kidney disease. Those who have hypertension typically lack warning signs or symptoms, making the risk of developing heart issues greater. While you might be active and try to eat as healthy as you can, nearly half of American adults develop high blood pressure, so knowing the facts about hypertension is crucial to maintaining good heart health.

Hypertension explained:

What exactly is hypertension? In simple terms, hypertension is when there’s a consistent high force of blood that flows through your blood vessels. Hypertension falls into two categories: primary or secondary.

  • Primary hypertension, also known as essential hypertension, is when there is no exact cause for high blood pressure.
  • Secondary hypertension is a result of another health problem such as kidney disease, use of medications (painkillers, anti-inflammatory medications, oral contraceptives, steroids, weight loss medications, etc), obstructive sleep apnea or endocrinological diseases.

Cardiologist Luis Gruberg, MD, says, “Primary hypertension is the most common type of hypertension and is usually attributed to multiple causes such as obesity, poor sleep, genetic factors, high sodium (salt) diet, excess alcohol intake, lack of exercise and social stress.”

How to tell if you have hypertension:

Since hypertension does not have any symptoms, measuring your blood pressure is the only way to determine if you have high blood pressure. There are a few ways to measure your blood pressure, such as:

  • At your doctor’s office
  • Using a digital blood pressure measurement machine at the pharmacy
  • Using an at-home blood pressure monitoring device

Blood pressure results:

A blood pressure screening will measure the amount of force in your arteries as your heart pumps blood and will provide two measurements –systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Systolic shows up as the first and higher number, measuring pressure inside your arteries when the heart is beating. Diastolic is the second and lower number, measuring pressure inside your arteries when the heart is resting in between beats. According to the National Institute on Aging, normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of less than 80. High blood pressure is defined as systolic pressure of 130 or higher or a diastolic pressure of 80 or higher.

Hypertension and your heart:

Hypertension can damage your health in many ways, mainly by causing irreparable damage to your heart, kidneys and brain. Hypertension makes your arteries less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart, leading to heart disease (the leading cause of death in the United States). It can also lead to heart failure, stroke, brain bleeding, heart attack and chronic kidney disease.

Control your blood pressure:

Preventing and controlling high blood pressure is important for the overall health of your heart. Some healthy lifestyle changes you can make are:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet (DASH or Mediterranean diet). Weight loss and low salt diet.
  • Exercising three to four times a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Relaxing and reducing stress
  • Taking prescribed medication
  • Understanding your numbers
  • Regularly seeing your primary care physician or cardiologist