What is blood pressure?

We’ve all heard doctors talking about blood pressure, but do you know what it is, or the right range your blood pressure should be in? Our arteries carry blood throughout our bodies, and blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. While it is normal for our blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day, it is possible for it to be too high, or too low.

According to the CDC, blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury and has two numbers:

  • The top number is called systolic pressure and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
  • The bottom number is called diastolic pressure and measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.

High blood pressure is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after having blood pressure measures that are consistently above what is considered the normal range. Your doctor will likely monitor your blood pressure readings over time and also have you monitor your blood pressure at home. Some tips to help you prepare for a blood pressure reading include:

  • Do not exercise, drink coffee, or smoke cigarettes for 30 minutes before the test.
  • Go to the bathroom before the test.
  • Sit in a chair and relax for at least 5 minutes before the test.
  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor.
  • Do not talk while you are relaxing or during the test.
  • Pull up your sleeves to uncover your arm for the cuff.
  • Rest your arm on a table so it is supported and at the level of your heart.
  • Be aware, that if this is the first time your provider has measured your blood pressure, that they may take two readings, one on each arm.

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can talk with your health care provider about what may be the cause. Some factors cannot be changed, and some factors are based off lifestyle choices.

According to the Mayo clinic, the following can increase your risk of high blood pressure:

  • Age. Until about age 64, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
  • Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among and can develop earlier in Black people.
  • Family history. You're more likely to develop high blood pressure if you have a parent or sibling with the condition.
  • Obesity or being overweight. Excess weight causes changes in the blood vessels, the kidneys and other parts of the body. These changes often increase blood pressure.
  • Certain chronic conditions. Kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea are some of the conditions that can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Pregnancy. Sometimes pregnancy causes high blood pressure.

While some of the above factors like age and race cannot be changed, there are some steps you can take to lower your blood pressure by changing up your lifestyle choices. The Mayo Clinic suggests trying the following:

1. Lose extra pounds and watch your waistline.

Blood pressure often increases as weight increases. Being overweight also can cause disrupted breathing while you sleep (sleep apnea), which further raises blood pressure. If you're overweight, losing even a small amount of weight can help reduce blood pressure. Also, waistline size is important. Carrying too much weight around the waist can increase the risk of high blood pressure.

2. Exercise regularly.

Regular physical activity can lower high blood pressure. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.

3. Eat a healthy diet.

Eating a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, and minimal saturated fats and cholesterol can lower high blood pressure. Examples of eating plans that can help control blood pressure are the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet.

Potassium in the diet can lessen the effects of salt (sodium) on blood pressure. The best sources of potassium are foods such as fruits and vegetables, rather than supplements.

4. Reduce salt (sodium) in your diet.

Even a small reduction of sodium in the diet can improve heart health and reduce high blood pressure. To reduce sodium in the diet:

  • Read food labels. Look for low-sodium versions of foods and beverages.
  • Eat fewer processed foods. Only a small amount of sodium occurs naturally in foods. Most sodium is added during processing.
  • Don't add salt. Use herbs or spices to add flavor to food.
  • Cook. Cooking lets you control the amount of sodium in the food.

5. Limit alcohol.

Limiting alcohol to less than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men can help lower blood pressure. Drinking too much alcohol can not only raise blood pressure but can also reduce the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.

6. Quit smoking.

Smoking increases blood pressure. Stopping smoking helps lower blood pressure. It can also reduce the risk of heart disease and improve overall health, possibly leading to a longer life.

7. Get a good night's sleep.

Poor sleep quality - getting fewer than six hours of sleep every night for several weeks—can contribute to hypertension.

Ask your health care provider about how you specifically can lower your blood pressure and what a healthy range looks like for you. You may need medication to manage your blood pressure, and a physician will be able to discuss your options with you. Patient First treats many conditions at our urgent care centers, including high blood pressure. You can visit any Patient First center from 8am to 8pm, any day of the week – no appointment is needed.

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