High Blood Pressure
While for most people there is no known cause of high blood pressure, there are factors that can increase a person's chance of developing it. Some of these risk factors cannot be controlled, including:
- Being African American
- Being a male over the age of 45 or a female over the age of 55
- Having a family history of the condition.
However, some risk factors can be controlled, including:
- Being overweight or obese
- Being physically inactive
- High salt (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).
Most people with high blood pressure don't have any symptoms. This is because the condition doesn't cause problems over a day or weeks, or even months. It usually takes several years for high blood pressure to cause noticeable symptoms, and even when it does cause problems, the symptoms are often mild and nonspecific (meaning they could be caused by several different conditions). For this reason, high blood pressure is often referred to as "the silent killer." People with the condition typically don't even realize they have it until they have blood pressure readings that are too high.
(Click High Blood Pressure Symptoms for more information.)
Having a blood pressure test is quick and painless. It 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.