High Blood Pressure: A Heart Disease Risk Factor

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. The more forceful it is — the higher it is — the more likely it is that the walls of your arteries will be damaged. An estimated one in four American adults have high blood pressure. Typically, there are no symptoms, which is why regular blood pressure checks are just as important as regular teeth cleanings.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure results in stiff, inflexible artery walls that are a veritable magnet for white blood cells, cholesterol, and other blood components that accumulate and form plaque. It’s easy to envision the damage high-pressure blood flow can wreak if you already have plaque buildup: That blood rushing past at high force is just what it takes to nick the “cap” off the plaque, setting the stage for a heart attack.

By the Numbers
Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day; it tends to be higher when you wake up in the morning and lower in the evening. And many factors can influence it — like what you eat that day and whether or not you’re feeling stressed. So doctors don’t like to diagnose high blood pressure until you’ve been tested on at least three separate occasions.

Optimal blood pressure levels are 120/80 or less. Normal levels are less than 130/85. High levels are above 140/90.

Quick Tips
Increase grains, fruits, vegetables, and nonfat dairy products in your diet. Diets rich in these foods can reduce blood pressure by about 10 percent, and more than 15 percent when combined with sodium restriction.

Exercise and lose weight, two things that can reduce blood pressure.

Reduce stress in your life. Studies find that meditation can be as effective as medication in lowering blood pressure.

Quit smoking. We also encourage you to quit smoking, which on its own should be enough to substantially lower your blood pressure. The nicotine in a single cigarette is potent enough to raise blood pressure levels above normal, and it can take 30 minutes to an hour for the effects of a cigarette to
wear off and for blood pressure to return to baseline.

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