High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly 30 percent of Americans adults. It is the leading cause of stroke and heart disease.

It is a common condition in which the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high. This requires the heart to work harder to circulate the blood through the blood vessels. Just as too much air can damage a tire or too much water pushing through a garden hose can damage the hose, high blood pressure can damage arteries and lead to life threatening illnesses.

Blood pressure appears as two numbers. The first number, which is on top, is a measure of systolic pressure or the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts or beats. The second number, which is on bottom, is a measure of diastolic pressure in the arteries when the heart relaxes. The systolic is always higher than the diastolic.

The blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day depending on activity levels. It is natural for your blood pressure to go up during stressful events or during strenuous activities. People with blood pressure readings of 140/90 and higher, when taken on two or more occasions, are considered to be hypertensive. People who are at higher risk, such as those with diabetes, heart problems, or kidney disease, are recommended to have a blood pressure below 130/80.

People with blood pressures higher than 120/80 are considered to be pre-hypertensive. This puts them at risk for developing high blood pressure. Nearly 50 million people are considered to be in the pre-hypertensive category. This increases the risk of developing damage to the arteries of the brain, heart, and kidneys. You are at a higher risk of developing hypertension if you are African American, obese, stressed, drink too much alcohol, eat too much salt, have a family history of high blood pressure, have diabetes, or smoke. You may have one or many of the risk factors when developing hypertension. Most of the time hypertension has no known cause.

One of the most dangerous things about hypertension is that you may not know you have it. More than one-third of people who have high blood pressure may not know they have it. If your blood pressure is extremely high you may develop headaches, chest pain, fatigue, blurred vision and/or palpitations. You may only realize that you are hypertensive if you have regular doctor’s visits and it is checked there.

Treatment for hypertension comes in many forms. It can range from life style changes to medications. Reducing smoking can lower your blood pressure. Stress can also increase the blood pressure. There are many different types and classifications of blood pressure meds so consult your physician to determine which one would be best for you.

Checking your blood pressure regularly is important. This can be done at home with a blood pressure monitor which could cost as little as $50. You can also have your blood pressure checked in the doctor’s office and some pharmacies. Reducing salt intake will also lower your blood pressure.

Serious health conditions could occur if high blood pressure is not controlled. Atherosclerosis can occur which is a buildup of plaque or fat in artery walls. Heart failure, heart disease, and cardiomyopathy (thickening of heart) are all associated with hypertension. Kidney disease can occur due to the additional stress put on kidney arteries. A stroke can also occur as a result of elevation in pressure on arteries. Sometimes even a rupture of the arteries in the brain can occur. Eye damage is a complication that can occur as well.

Your doctor will have you come to the office regularly for check-ups to monitor your blood pressure closely. Also a physical exam looking for signs of heart disease and eye damage will usually be done. Tests to check for high cholesterol, EKG, blood work and/or a urinalysis may be done to look for additional risk factors or damage that the blood pressure may have caused.

There are many things you can do to lower your blood pressure. Eat healthy with a reduction of salt in your diet; usually less than 1,500 mg a day. Exercise regularly at least 30 minutes a day. Quit smoking. Limit alcohol consumption. Reduce stress. Stay at a healthy body weight.

Most of the time high blood pressure can be controlled by meds and life style changes. Regular check-ups are the most important thing in detection and maintenance of your blood pressure.