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Chronic Conditions

High Blood Pressure

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure readings include 2 numbers, for example, 130/80. The first number in the reading is called the systolic pressure. It is the force that blood exerts on the artery walls as the heart contracts. The second number in the reading is the diastolic pressure. It is the force that blood exerts on the artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is at rest.

If a person's blood pressure readings are consistently above 140 systolic and 90 diastolic, he or she is said to have high blood pressure (hypertension).

Despite what a lot of people think, high blood pressure usually does not cause headaches, dizziness, or

lightheadedness. It usually has no symptoms. However, high blood pressure increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney or eye damage. Your risk of developing these problems increases as your blood pressure rises.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include:

Prevention

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Changes in your lifestyle may help you prevent high blood pressure or help you lower your blood pressure if it's too high.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. This is especially important if you tend to put on weight around the waist rather than in the hips and thighs. Losing even 4.5 kg (10 lb) can help you lower your blood pressure.

  • Exercise regularly. Thirty to 45 minutes of brisk walking 3 to 5 times a week will help you lower your blood pressure (and may also help you lose weight).

  • Drink alcohol only in moderation.

  • Use salt moderately. Too much salt in the diet can be a problem for some people who have high blood pressure and are also salt-sensitive.

  • Make sure you get enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium in your diet. Eating plenty of fruits (such as bananas and oranges), vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy products will ensure that you get enough of these minerals.

  • Reduce the saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat is found in animal products (milk, cheese, and meat). Limiting these foods will help you lose weight and also lower your risk for coronary artery disease. See Fats in Foods.

  • Stop using tobacco products. Tobacco use increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. See Be Tobacco-Free for tips to help you quit.

  • Learn how to check your blood pressure at home. See Blood Pressure Monitoring.

Home Treatment

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  • Follow the Prevention tips above even more closely if you already have high blood pressure.

  • Take any prescribed blood pressure medications exactly as directed, and see your doctor at least once a year.

  • If you are taking blood pressure medication, talk to your doctor before taking decongestants or anti-inflammatory drugs, because they can raise your blood pressure.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • Call immediately if you have high blood pressure and:

    • Your blood pressure rises suddenly.

    • Your blood pressure is 180/110 or higher.

    • You have a sudden, severe headache that is worse than any headache you've had before.

  • Call if your blood pressure is higher than 140/90 on 2 or more occasions (taken at home or in a community screening program). If one blood pressure reading is high, have another taken by a health professional to verify the first reading.

  • Call if you develop uncomfortable or disturbing side effects from any medication taken for high blood pressure.

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