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A cardiologist holds a stethoscope to check her patient's heart rate and rhythm.

What does it mean to have high blood pressure?

Your blood pressure rises and falls during the day, depending on your activity and stress levels. If your pressure remains high for too long, it can cause damage to your heart and blood vessels.

Nearly half of U.S. adults are diagnosed with hypertension, but only 24% of those have their condition under control. There are lifestyle changes you can take to manage high blood pressure, as well as different forms of medication.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

Known as the “silent killer,” hypertension has no obvious symptoms. It’s important to regularly check your blood pressure before damage is caused to the heart, blood vessels, and other organs. In rare and severe cases, hypertension can cause:

Causes of hypertension

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • High salt intake
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking

What are the different levels of blood pressure?

  • Normal blood pressure = below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic mmHg
  • Elevated blood pressure = 120 to 129 systolic and below 80 diastolic mmHg
  • Stage 1 hypertension = 130 to 139 systolic and 80 to 89 diastolic mmHg
  • Stage 2 hypertension = 140 systolic or higher or 90 diastolic mmHg or higher

Risk factors for hypertension

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Weight
  • Gender
  • Existing conditions

Prevention tips for high blood pressure

  • Regular blood pressure screenings with your doctor
  • Get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week
  • No smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet, including limiting sodium and alcohol
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Manage stress

The typical range of a resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. However, a lower heart rate indicates more efficient heart function and better health overall. A simple way to measure your heart rate is by placing your index and middle fingers on either your neck or heart where you can feel your pulse, count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds, and multiply that number by four.

There are several lifestyle changes you can make to lower your heart rate.

  • Increase exercise. More activity can strengthen your heart and bring down your heart rate.
  • Limit or avoid stimulants. Caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants drive up your heart rate, and limiting or eliminating your intake of them can help you achieve a lower resting heart rate.
  • Manage stress and get rest. Stress and a lack of sleep are common contributors to higher heart rates. Finding ways to stay calm and get plenty of sleep can bring your heartbeat to a healthy pace.

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