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While almost half of all adults in the United States suffer from hypertension, only 1 in 4 have their condition under control, according to a study by the CDC. Despite the prevalence, there are often no warning signs to alert you in advance. On the bright side, existing treatment options and prevention mechanisms allow for effectively managing hypertension.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, occurs when the blood pumped through your arteries meets with too much resistance. If the pressure gets high enough, it can lead to health problems.

A person is considered to have high blood pressure when the top number of their blood pressure (the systolic blood pressure) is greater than 130 mmHg or the bottom number is greater than 80 mmHg. You are also considered to have high blood pressure if you take medication for high blood pressure, even if your numbers are within the normal range.

Risk Factors

Some factors that determine your risk for high blood pressure cannot be changed. These include:

  • Family history of high blood preassure. If people in your family have high blood pressure, you have a higher chance of developing it yourself.
  • Race. People of African descent tend to develop high blood pressure more frequently and earlier in their lives.
  • Age. As you get older, the chances of getting high blood pressure increase.

Other factors that increase your risk for high blood pressure are controllable. These include:

  • Too much sodium in your diet: Avoid processed foods, which usually contain high amounts of sodium. If you do eat processed foods, pick “low-sodium” or “salt-free” alternatives. Avoid MSG. Reduce the amount of salt you add to your food.
  • Not getting enough exercise: Try to get 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week; aim for at least 150 minutes each week.
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Obesity or being overweight. Eating a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight.
  • Stress. Try to get plenty of sleep and keep your stress level under control as much as possible.

Symptoms

How do you know if you have high blood pressure?Nerve damage

High blood pressure is a blood pressure that consists of either a systolic pressure (the top number) greater than 140 or a diastolic pressure (the bottom number) greater than 80. However, most people will not develop symptoms of high blood pressure until it is much higher and further advanced.

Headaches, nosebleeds, or shortness of breath could all be symptoms of hypertension that has reached life-threatening levels.

Complications

If hypertension is not diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to other health problems. These complications include:

  • Aneurysms
  • Damage to the blood vessels in the eyes
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Enlarged heart
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Nerve damage

Treatment

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, your treatment options will depend on the levels of your blood pressure, individual risk factors, and symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe you a medication that can help to lower your blood pressure to prevent the chance of developing cardiovascular disease. They may also recommend some simple lifestyle changes.

The basics of treating high blood pressure are:

  • Take your blood pressure medication as prescribed.
  • Eat a nutritious diet, high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in sodium and fat.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
  • Discuss medication options with your doctor.

Prevention

You may be able to prevent high blood pressure in much the same way as you treat it: a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding smoking and consuming alcohol.

Summary

If you have not been diagnosed with hypertension, you can take simple steps to prevent it by making positive changes to your lifestyle. Eat more vegetables and fruit. Avoid fat and sodium. Get plenty of exercise and sleep. Don’t smoke and avoid alcohol.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice that your blood pressure is high or if you have symptoms of high blood pressure. They may want to start you on medication to lower your blood pressure.

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, it’s still crucial to start eating a healthy diet and exercising. Take any medications as prescribed and don’t stop when your numbers return to a normal level. Talk to your doctor before stopping your blood pressure medication.

Call 9-1-1 if you have chest pain, trouble breathing, lose consciousness, or develop any signs of associated conditions, such as a heart attack or stroke. Call your doctor if your blood pressure is outside of the normal range or you are experiencing any symptoms of high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can be a frightening thing, and if left untreated, it can lead to even more frightening outcomes, but you can help prevent and even treat it with simple lifestyle changes.

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