Your heart is a muscle about the size of your fist. It’s made up of four chambers and contains four valves. The valves open and close to let blood move through the chambers and into and out of your heart. According to the American Heart Association, your heart beats 60 to 100 times per minute, or about 100,000 times per day. As it beats, blood is forced against your artery walls.
Though essential hypertension remains somewhat mysterious, it has been linked to certain risk factors. High blood pressure tends to run in families and is more likely to affect men than women. Age and race also play a role. In the United States, blacks are twice as likely as whites to have high blood pressure, although the gap begins to narrow around age 44. After age 65, black women have the highest incidence of high blood pressure.
Lifelong control of hypertension will minimize the risk of developing heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and a variety of other illnesses. Unlike other illnesses in which medications are taken for only a short period of time, high blood pressure medication is usually expected to be taken for the rest of the individual's life. It is uncommon, but not rare, that significant lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure readings to normal.
National data shows that isolated systolic hypertension is becoming increasingly common among young adults, and study findings raise concern about its effect on heart health. Isolated systolic hypertension is often overlooked in young and middle-aged adults, as most studies on the issue involve older adults, among whom the condition is most common. But current findings suggest that isolated systolic hypertension does, in fact, have a serious impact on the cardiovascular health of young adults. As such, researchers encourage future research to better identify and treat young adults with isolated systolic hypertension who are at greatest risk for heart events.

Cut down on salt. As you get older, the body and blood pressure become more sensitive to salt (sodium), so you may need to watch how much salt is in your diet. Most of the salt comes from processed foods (for example, soup and baked goods). A low-salt diet, such as the DASH diet, might help lower your blood pressure. Talk with your doctor about eating less salt.

Nuts, legumes, and seeds are rich in magnesium, protein, and fiber. Walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower your risk of heart disease. Enjoy as many as five servings of these foods each week. That’s 1/3 cup of nuts, 2 tablespoons of seeds, or a 1/2 cup of cooked dried beans or peas in each serving. Grab a handful of seeds or nuts as a snack. Or add beans to your salads or soups.
Studies even show that blood pressure measurements outside a doctor’s office are at least as accurate as those in the office (provided the equipment works well). If your results are high, take another reading. Try, try again. If they’re still high, see your healthcare provider and get checked out. Your doctor may order blood and urine tests or an EKG to diagnose other causes for your hypertension.
For a normal reading, your blood pressure needs to show a top number (systolic pressure) that’s between 90 and less than 120 and a bottom number (diastolic pressure) that’s between 60 and less than 80. The American Heart Association (AHA) considers blood pressure to be within the normal range when both your systolic and diastolic numbers are in these ranges.

Not only the degree of obesity is important, but also the manner in which the body accumulates extra fat. Some people gain weight around their belly (central obesity or "apple-shaped" people), while others store fat around their hips and thighs ("pear-shaped" people). "Apple-shaped" people tend to have greater health risks for high blood pressure than "pear-shaped" people.
As you age, prevention becomes even more important. Systolic pressure tends to creep up once you’re older than 50, and it’s far more important in predicting the risk of coronary heart disease and other conditions. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, may also play a role. Talk to your doctor about how you can manage your overall health to help prevent the onset of hypertension.
Studies even show that blood pressure measurements outside a doctor’s office are at least as accurate as those in the office (provided the equipment works well). If your results are high, take another reading. Try, try again. If they’re still high, see your healthcare provider and get checked out. Your doctor may order blood and urine tests or an EKG to diagnose other causes for your hypertension.

How the heart pumps blood into the arteries with enough force to push blood to the far reaches of each organ from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Blood pressure can be defined as the pressure of blood on the walls of the arteries as it circulates through the body. Blood pressure is highest as its leaves the heart through the aorta and gradually decreases as it enters smaller and smaller blood vessels (arteries, arterioles, and capillaries). Blood returns in the veins leading to the heart, aided by gravity and muscle contraction.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can damage your blood vessels, heart and kidneys. This damage can cause a heart attack, stroke or other health problems. Your blood pressure reading is based on two measurements called systolic and diastolic. The systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) are written as a ratio, for example (120/80 mmHg). A reading of more than 140/90 mmHg taken at your healthcare provider’s office may indicate high blood pressure. This figure is different for people with diabetes whose blood pressure should be below 130/80 mmHg. People suffering from other illnesses will have different target normal values. For more information on hypertension, visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation and Hypertension Canada.

Electrocardiogram (ECG): This tests the heart's electrical activity. This test is more commonly used for patients at high risk of heart problems, such as hypertension and elevated cholesterol levels. The initial ECG is called a baseline. Subsequent ECGs may be compared with the baseline to reveal changes which may point to coronary artery disease or thickening of the heart wall.
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