Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. The force is generated with each heartbeat as blood is pumped from the heart into the blood vessels. When you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, it means that your heart needs to work harder to move blood through your blood vessels.
High blood pressure is often called the silent killer because there are often no symptoms until something bad happens like a stroke or heart attack. High blood pressure can cause great damage to your arteries and heart. When your blood flows too forcefully through your arteries, it can cause small tears or niches where plaque can build up. This leads to the narrowing and hardening of your arteries, which forces your heart to work harder to pump blood through your body. Eventually your arteries can become blocked and serious damage can occur to your heart leading to heart disease or a heart attack.
Nearly one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure. It is particularly common in people who have diabetes, are African Americans, middle-aged and elderly people, have a family history of high blood pressure, consume a high-salt diet, are overweight, are heavy drinkers, and/or are depressed. Your blood pressure can increase because of weight, excessive sodium intake, and lack of exercise and physical activity.
There are ways to prevent high blood pressure. Start with a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and other fibers, and avoid salty, fatty, and high-calorie foods. Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if you are currently overweight. Limiting or omitting alcoholic beverages and stopping smoking also may help. It’s also important to have your blood pressure checked during annual physicals, and talk to your physician about possible medications you could take for high blood pressure.