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High Blood Pressure

Mill Pond
Looking out over Mill Pond in Ashland on a warm summer’s day/Photo by Douglas Flynn

High blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension, is one of the most common health conditions affecting American adults. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates about 1 in 3 adults in the United States has high blood pressure.

Blood pressure is the measure of the force of blood pushing against the wall of arteries as the heart pumps blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many ways and lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems.

What caregivers should know about high blood pressure

  • Blood pressure is measured in two numbers. The first is called systolic and represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart beats. The second is called diastolic and represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.
  • Normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic over 80 diastolic. Blood pressure between 120-139 systolic over 80-89 diastolic represents a condition called prehypertension, in which the person is at risk of developing high blood pressure. Blood pressure of 140 or higher systolic and/or 90 or higher diastolic is diagnosed as hypertension. High blood pressure is further categorized as being Stage 1 at 140-159 systolic and/or 90-99 diastolic, and Stage 2 at 160 or higher systolic and/or 100 or higher diastolic.
  • In addition to approximately 31 percent of adults in the U.S. with high blood pressure, another 30 percent have prehypertension.
  • There are no warning signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, so many people don’t realize they have it. That makes having your blood pressure checked regularly even more important, especially if you or your loved one is at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Among the factors that increase the risk of developing high blood pressure are smoking, being overweight or obese, a lack of physical activity, excessive salt intake, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, family history of high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and adrenal and thyroid disorders.
  • Race and ethnicity can also be a factor, with high blood pressure more prevalent among African-Americans.
  • Blood pressure tends to rise with age, with 65 percent of Americans aged 60 or older suffering from high blood pressure.
  • A healthy lifestyle can delay or prevent that rise in blood pressure as you age. Healthy diet, exercise and proper medication management and medical care can also help control the condition for those who already have high blood pressure, reducing the risk of related health problems.
  • High blood pressure isn’t just an issue for the loved ones caregivers are caring for; it also affects a disproportionate number of caregivers themselves. A 2011 Gallup survey of family caregivers found that caregivers who are employed full time are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure than their non-caregiving counterparts. That is true for every age group, but is particularly striking for younger caregivers, with caregivers aged 18-29 63% more likely to have high blood pressure than non-caregivers in the same age bracket and caregivers aged 30-44 31% more likely.

Related information and additional web resources

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a wealth of information about high blood pressure, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
and American Heart Association also have informative sections on their sites.

For more of a local focus, the Massachusetts state website offers “Basic Facts About High Blood Pressure”.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a downloadable guidebook on controlling hypertension called, “Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure” [PDF].

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