What Is High Blood Pressure?

Know the Risk Factors

While, for most people, there is no known cause of high blood pressure, there are factors that increase a person's chance of developing the disease. These are known as high blood pressure risk factors. Unfortunately, some of these high blood pressure risk factors cannot be controlled, such as:
  • Being African American
  • Having a family history of high blood pressure
  • Being a male over the age of 45 or a female over the age of 55.
However, there are a number of high blood pressure risk factors that can be controlled, including:
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being physically inactive
  • High salt and sodium intake
  • Low potassium intake (due to not eating enough fruits and vegetables)
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Having diabetes
  • Having prehypertension (that is, blood pressure in the 120-139/80-89 mmHg range).


Testing for High Blood Pressure

A blood pressure test involves using either a sphygmomanometer or blood pressure machine to measure the blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers (systolic pressure "over" diastolic pressure). For example, the doctor or nurse might say "130 over 80" as a blood pressure reading. This is written as 130/80. Many people define normal blood pressure as an average reading of 120/80 or below.
Both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important. As we grow older, systolic blood pressure is especially important.

Making a Diagnosis

High blood pressure can only be diagnosed after taking several readings to find your average blood pressure. To determine your average blood pressure, your blood pressure needs to be taken two or more times, and each reading must be from a different day. If the average of these blood pressure readings is more than 140/90, you have high blood pressure.
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