Understanding High Blood Pressure

What is ‘High Blood Pressure’?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a disease in which blood flows through blood vessels (arteries) at a higher than normal pressure. If poorly controlled, high blood pressure can damage the heart and blood vessels which can contribute to heart disease. An estimated 1.28 billion adults aged 30-79 years worldwide have hypertension with an estimated 46% of adults unaware that they have the condition. A 2020 study conducted in Kenya and published in the BMC Public Health Journal, indicated that close to a quarter of adults in Kenya suffer from the condition. These are people with a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher against the normal measurement for healthy people is 120/80 mmHg.

Let’s talk numbers

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, denoted as mm/Hg. When a healthcare professional takes your blood pressure, it’s expressed as a measurement with two numbers, one number on top known as systolic pressure and one on the bottom known as diastolic pressure, just like a fraction.

Your systolic pressure (the top number) is the pressure of the blood in your arteries when your heart contracts or beats.

Your diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is the pressure of the blood in your arteries between beats, when your heart relaxes.

Example, 120/80 mm Hg.

Numbers greater than 120/80 mm Hg may be a sign that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.

Deep dive into High Blood Pressure stages

Early detection of high blood pressure is very important. Often referred to as the “silent killer” because it may show no symptoms, high blood pressure puts you at an increased risk for heart disease, heart failure, and kidney disease. Blood pressure numbers that are higher than 120/80 mm Hg are a warning sign. It means you need to pay attention to your blood pressure and focus on heart-healthy habits.

Elevated Blood Pressure

Elevated blood pressure may also be called pre-hypertension and is indicated when your systolic pressure is between 120 and 129 mm Hg and your diastolic pressure is less than 80 mm Hg. Although these numbers aren’t technically considered high blood pressure, you’ve moved out of the normal range. No medications are necessary for elevated blood pressure. Your doctor may talk with you about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Stage 1 Hypertension

Stage 1 hypertension is a systolic pressure ranging from 130 to 139 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89 mm Hg. Your doctor can help you measure and track your blood pressure to confirm whether it’s too high; promote healthy diet and advise on physical activity

Stage 2 Hypertension

More-severe hypertension, stage 2 hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage, your doctor will recommend one or more medications to manage your blood pressure. Medications aren’t the only treatment for this stage, though. Lifestyle habits are just as important in stage 2 hypertension as they are in the other stages.

Hypertensive Crisis

A blood pressure measurement higher than 180/120 mm Hg is an emergency situation that requires urgent medical care even if there are no accompanying symptoms.

Bottom Line

Keeping your blood pressure within a normal range is key to preventing complications, such as heart disease and kidney disease. A combination of healthy lifestyle habits and medications can help lower your blood pressure.

Remember that a single blood pressure reading doesn’t necessarily classify your health. An average of blood pressure readings taken over time is the most accurate. That’s why it’s important to have your blood pressure taken by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

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