High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, represents an elevated level over time of a person’s blood pressure—the force of blood pushing against the walls of a person’s arteries, which carry blood to tissues and organs as the heart pumps.
Fact: High blood pressure affects about 72 million Americans.
There’s a reason that high blood pressure raises red flags. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage blood vessels in the brain, as well as other organs like the heart and kidneys. That’s why it is so critical to prevent it or catch it early.
The tricky part is that hypertension rarely has symptoms until serious physical damage has occurred—thus, its infamous tag as “the silent killer.”
Brain cells require a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients. High blood pressure can harm the brain by damaging the heart that pumps blood to the brain and damaging blood vessels in the brain. Blood vessels in the brain that are weakened by high blood pressure can burst and produce bleeding directly into the brain tissue, causing a stroke.
The majority of research shows that untreated or unrecognized hypertension may decrease cognitive function or increase the risk of developing dementia, and chronic hypertension in mid-life may cause diminished cognitive function or dementia in later life. In general, the relationship between hypertension in individuals 65 and older is less clear, especially for those with mild hypertension.
The key is to prevent hypertension or lower already high blood pressure; in other words, to keep your blood pressure in the normal range—not too high and not too low.
Therapies for hypertension include antihypertensive medication and lifestyle modifications.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers—the systolic pressure (pressure in the artery when the heart beats while pumping blood) over the diastolic pressure (pressure in the artery when the heart relaxes between beats). The measurement is recorded one above the other, with the systolic pressure as the top number and the diastolic pressure as the bottom number (systolic over diastolic).
Clinicians measure blood pressure by placing an inflatable cuff around a person’s upper arm that is connected to a pressure gauge.
A diagnosis of high blood pressure is based on two or more readings on separate occasions of a systolic pressure at 140 or above and diastolic pressure at 90 or above.
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