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Blood Pressure
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Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood against artery walls. It is expressed as two numbers: (1) the upper number, systolic pressure (pronounced siss-TAWL-ick), represents the force as the heart beats and (2) the lower number, diastolic pressure (pronounced dye-as-TAWL-ick), is the force as the heart relaxes between beats.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when either systolic or diastolic pressure remains elevated over time. High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work too hard and its extra force can damage arteries. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, kidney damage or stroke. New evidence also links high blood pressure to increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

How is high blood pressure controlled?

To control or prevent high blood pressure:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise
  • Consume a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fiber and low-fat dairy products, with a reduced level of sodium and saturated and total fat
  • If you drink, limit alcohol intake to two drinks a day for men and one for women

If lifestyle measures don’t maintain or reduce your blood pressure to desired levels, doctors may prescribe various medications. It is important to take these as prescribed.

Recommended blood pressure levels for adults age 18 and older


If your status is

Your systolic is

 

Your diastolic is

Health Impact

Normal or “ideal”

Less than 120

and *

Less than 80

Good for you!

Prehypertension

120 – 139

or **

80 – 89

Your blood pressure could be a problem. Make lifestyle changes and work with your doctor to monitor your progress

Hypertension

140 or higher

or **

90 or higher

You have high blood pressure. Work with your doctor to decide on the best control strategy for you.

* To be considered normal, both your systolic and diastolic numbers must fall below these upper limits.

** The highest category for either your systolic or diastolic pressure determines your status. If your two numbers fall into different categories, your overall status is the higher category.

These guidelines represent the recommendations of the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (the JNC 7 Report).

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