One in three American adults has hypertension (high blood pressure). And, because hypertension causes few obvious symptoms, many people with high blood pressure don’t even know it. What’s more, only about half of all diagnosed individuals are controlling their blood pressure adequately. This condition is a primary or contributing cause in more than 1,000 deaths each day and costs the nation $48.6 billion each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But, straightforward lifestyle changes can both prevent and treat this common and devastating “silent killer.”
What is Blood Pressure? “Blood pressure is the force the blood exerts on the walls of the arteries,” says Sondra M. DePalma, DHSc, PA-C, a cardiology PA with PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute at UPMC Pinnacle and an author of the American Heart Association’s 2017 Guideline for the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Management of High Blood Pressure in Adults. The top number (the systolic pressure) is the force exerted on the artery wall with each beat (contraction) of the heart. The bottom number (the diastolic pressure) is the force when the heart is at rest (between beats). If readings rise above 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, risks begin to rise. Treatment through lifestyle changes and/or medication is recommended if numbers rise over 130 or over 80. [For more information on blood pressure readings, see Blood Pressure by the Numbers.