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High blood pressure can be deadly. Many times, people don’t know they have it. That’s why it’s called "the silent killer." The only way to know if you’re at risk is to have it checked often.
Nearly half of adults in the United States, about 116 million people, have hypertension, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And only 25 percent of them have it under control. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, raises the risk of kidney disease, stroke, heart attacks and other serious health issues.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls as it circulates through your body. Blood pressure often rises and falls throughout the day, but it can cause health problems if it stays high for a long time.
Anyone, including children, can have high blood pressure. Some things that are beyond your control can raise your risk. These include your age, sex, and race or ethnicity. But many risk factors are within your control. You can work to cut these risk factors with lifestyle changes. That includes keeping a healthy weight and being physically active. Talk with your doctor about the best ways to reduce your risk for high blood pressure.
High blood pressure usually has no warning signs or symptoms, so many people don’t realize they have it. That’s why it’s vital to visit your doctor and have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Having your blood pressure checked is the only way to find out if you have high blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings measure two things. One is the force that pushes on the walls of your blood vessels as they carry blood and oxygen to your organs. That is called systolic pressure. It’s the top number.
The second number is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests between beats. That is called diastolic pressure.
If either number is too high, it means that your blood vessels are under too much pressure. That can raise your risk for blood clots and other serious health problems.
One method used to measure your blood pressure is wrapping an inflatable cuff with a pressure gauge around your arm to squeeze the blood vessels. Then a health care provider listens to your pulse with a stethoscope while releasing air from the cuff. The gauge measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart beats (systolic) and when it rests (diastolic).
You can also measure your blood pressure at home. Try these tips for an accurate reading.
If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medicine to treat it. And lifestyle changes can be just as important as taking medicines.
Try these tips for lowering your blood pressure from the American Heart Association:
If you have high blood pressure, be sure to take any medication your doctor prescribes as directed. If you have any side effects, don’t stop taking it without checking with your doctor first.
Originally published 5/11/2020; Revised 2022
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