Blood Pressure 101

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Screen shot 2012 10 19 at 10.16.46 AM Blood Pressure 101

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the way that blood presses against your artery walls.

The pressure that occurs during a heartbeat is called systolic pressure.

Pressure between heartbeats is called diastolic pressure.

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension.

What’s Normal?

Systolic pressure is listed above diastolic pressure, so your blood pressure numbers end up looking like a fraction.

  • Normal blood pressure – 119/79 or less
  • Prehypertension – 120/80 – 139/89
  • Hypertension – 140/90 or more

Effects of Hypertension

Your artery walls harden in response to high blood pressure over time.

When the pressure on your artery walls is high, your heart has to work much harder to pump blood through them.

If you have hypertension, you’re more likely to get congestive heart failure, angina, or even a heart attack.

High blood pressure further raises your risk of stroke. Either…

  • A clot can block a narrow artery with hardened walls, or
  • A vein can burst under the strain and bleed.

Blood vessels in your eyes may also burst under increased pressure. This can cause blindness.

When blood vessels harden near the kidneys, the kidneys cannot clear toxins from your blood as quickly. This can lead to kidney failure.

Blood Pressure Tests

There are often no visible signs of hypertension, so you need to get your blood pressure tested with a kit or at your doctor’s office.

Outside factors can artificially raise your blood pressure. They include…

  • Smoking
  • Drinking coffee
  • Nerves
  • Full bladder

That’s why doctors advise you to have multiple blood pressure tests over several days. You’re more likely to get an accurate reading that way.

Treatment and Prevention

Changes in diet can lower blood pressure and even prevent hypertension.

Increase your consumption of a variety of…

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Lean protein
  • Whole grains

Decrease your consumption of…

  • Red meat
  • Sugar
  • Cholesterol
  • Alcohol

To reduce sodium consumption, avoid canned, frozen, and packaged foods, which often hide huge amounts of salt inside.

Did you know that soy sauce, soy substitutes, and mustard are all high in sodium? Try vinegars, Worcestershire sauce, or salt-free ketchup instead.

Be physically active! Start with 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week.

This post is an excerpt from the handout that accompanies our Blood Pressure 101 PowerPoint show. For more detailed information, check out our blood pressure materials in the Nutrition Education Store!


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