High Blood Pressure: Key Q&A

Why is there so much concern about high blood pressure?
High blood pressure stresses the heart and can contribute to coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

When is blood pressure considered "high"?
Blood pressure is expressed as a ratio of systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. Normal blood pressure for adults is considered to be below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). In general, blood pressure above 140/90 is considered to be high for adults, and blood pressure under 90/60 is considered to be low for adults.

What is prehypertension?
Prehypertension is a new category for individuals with systolic pressures of 120 to 139 mmHg and/or diastolic pressures of 80 to 89 mmHg. Such individuals are typically not prescribed medication, but they are advised to adopt lifestyle modifications to help keep blood pressure from rising. Lifestyle modifications might include weight loss, diet, exercise, reducing salt intake and quitting smoking.

Can high blood pressure damage the body?
Untreated, high blood pressure will cause the heart to overwork itself to the point where eventually serious damage can occur. For example, the heart muscle can thicken and begin to function abnormally, or dilate and contract less forcefully. High blood pressure can cause injury to the brain, the eyes and/or the kidneys.

Does taking birth control pills affect the risk of high blood pressure?
Taking birth control pills does put you at increased risk for high blood pressure, especially if you are over age 35. High blood pressure is typically two to three times more common in women taking birth control pills than those not taking them. The risk is especially high in women who take the pill and are overweight or obese.

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