High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a dangerous condition that affects approximately 30 percent of Americans, causing up to 60,000 deaths per year. High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” because it typically has no symptoms until after it has done significant damage to the heart and arteries. In fact, almost 20 percent of Americans who have high blood pressure don’t know they have it and, therefore, don’t know that they are at risk for heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney disease, and eye disease.
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the inside of the arteries as the heart pumps the blood through your body. Blood pressure readings are recorded with two numbers, listed as a ratio, with one number over another number. The top number, or systolic pressure, is the force of blood when your heart beats, and the bottom number, or diastolic pressure, is the force of your blood against the artery walls when your heart rests.
A normal blood pressure reading is under 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Prehypertension refers to blood pressure that is raised enough to be a warning sign for developing hypertension, is anything above normal up to 139/89 mmHg.
Hypertension is 140/90 mmHg and above.
Treatment is recommended if your blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg and above. In most cases, treatment includes lifestyle changes and/or medications.
Why Is High Blood Pressure a Silent Killer?
High blood pressure typically has no symptoms, but it causes progressive harm to the cardiovascular system. When blood pushes with too much force through the cardiovascular system, it can damage the walls of the arteries as well as the heart muscle. Damage to the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood can eventually contribute to a heart attack. Similarly, damage to the arteries that supply the brain with blood can contribute to a stroke, and damage to the arteries that provide the kidneys with blood can lead to kidney disease.
How Will I Know if I have High Blood Pressure?
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to test for it. Your healthcare provider will not diagnose you with high blood pressure based on one reading. Typically three elevated readings are needed to confirm the diagnosis. This is one reason you may be asked to use a blood pressure cuff at home or a machine at a pharmacy and keep a log of your blood pressure readings over several days.