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June 17, 2009 by Dianne M. Smith, MS, CEP

blood pressureBlood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. It moves blood from your heart to all parts of your body. This pressure changes from day to day according to your fitness level, body weight, time of day, medication, or stress level.

In some people, the smaller arteries become narrow, increasing the resistance for blood flow. The heart then begins working harder and faster. When this happens, blood pressure goes up. If it goes too high and stays that way, it is called high blood pressure.

Blood pressure is recorded as a fraction, 110/60. The top number is the SYSTOLIC pressure; the bottom number is the DIASTOLIC pressure. Systolic pressure is measured when the heart beats, forcing blood out of the aorta and through the arteries. Diastolic Pressure is measured when the heart relaxes between beats, reducing the pressure against the artery walls.

High blood pressure, values greater than or equal to 140/90, should not be diagnosed on the basis of a single measurement. An average of multiple blood readings, taken over a one to two week time period, should be used to diagnose hypertension ( i.e., high blood pressure).

Classification of Blood Pressure For Adults Age 18 & Older
Blood Pressure Classification Systolic (mmHg) Blood Pressure Diastolic (mmHg) Blood Pressure
Normal Less than 120 and Less than 80
Prehypertension 120 - 139 or 80 - 89
Stage 1 Hypertension 140 - 159 or 90 - 99
Stage 2 Hypertension Greater than or equal to 160 or Greater than or equal to 100

Some initial warning signs of high blood pressure may be headaches, chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeats. Uncontrolled high blood pressure may result in stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, and/or early death.

If you have high blood pressure, you should consult a doctor. In addition to prescribing medication, he/she may suggest making the following lifestyle changes:

  •  Quit smoking. Ten to twenty minutes after you smoke a cigarette your blood pressure goes up. If you smoke a pack a day, you have a two time greater chance of having a heart attack.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Excess weight puts an extra burden on the heart by forcing it to beat more often and to pump more blood per beat.
  • Exercise regularly. Thirty minutes of moderately intense, aerobic exercise several days of the week helps control weight and can be helpful in lowering blood pressure.
  •  Avoid alcohol. If you do drink, do so in moderation and limit alcohol consumption to 4-6 ounces per day.
  • Reduce saturated fats in your diet. You can reduce your saturated fat intake by eating fewer red meats and organ meats, and eating no more than three egg yolks per week. Eat more low-fat dairy products, poultry (without skin), fish and beans. Limit total fat calories per day to less than 30 percent.
  • Reduce sodium to 2,400mg or less per day. In certain people, a diet high in sodium may contribute to high blood pressure. Sodium can sneak into your diet. Read food labels. You can limit your intake by: avoiding salted snacks and using fresh or frozen vegetables rather than canned.
  • Eat 5 servings of vegetables and fruits per day, especially those high in potassium.
  • Avoid caffeine. Drink more water, and switch to decaffeinated coffee, sodas and tea; avoid foods that contain caffeine like chocolate.
  • Minimize stress.