Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.

Danger: Contents Under Pressure

Feeling overworked? Try being a heart! When you are working – it’s working.  When you are playing – it’s working. When you are sleeping – it’s working.

Your heart is under pressure to perform 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And if you are among the one in three adults in the United States living with high blood pressure, you run the risk of your heart “quitting” on you at any time – and you probably don’t even know it.

Virtually symptom-free, the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that while more than 78 million people in the United States have high blood pressure, half don’t even know it. Uncontrolled and untreated high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, erectile dysfunction, aneurysm, kidney failure, atherosclerosis (fatty buildup in the arteries) and even blindness.

Blood pressure is the force of blood on the walls of the blood vessels as blood flows through them. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), this pressure naturally rises and falls during the day, but when it is consistently too high, it is considered high blood pressure. The medical term is hypertension.

Blood pressure is usually expressed as a fraction, where the first number – called systolic pressure – measures the force in the arteries when the heart pumps, and the second number – diastolic pressure – measures the heart at rest. Blood pressure measuring 120/80 is considered in the normal range.

High Blood Pressure–If your blood pressure is closer to 120-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic, you are considered to have prehypertension. If your blood pressure is above 140 systolic or above 90 diastolic, you are considered to have high blood pressure, or hypertension.

While the exact cause of high blood pressure is unknown, the AHA reports the following potential risk factors to developing the condition: obesity, inactivity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, high-sodium diet, stress, heredity, race – African-Americans develop high blood pressure at a higher rate than any other race and age – Men are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 35; women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause

Among the easiest ways to reduce slightly elevated blood pressure or prehypertension: lose weight; add foods with potassium, magnesium, calcium, lean proteins and fiber to your diet; limit foods with sodium, trans fats and saturated fats to your diet; limit alcohol consumption  and quit smoking.

If you develop hypertension, depending on the severity, the above tactics are recommended in combination with one or more prescribed medications, all of which should be done under a doctor’s care.

Our hearts beat approximately 100,000 times a day, and for someone suffering from high blood pressure, that’s 100,000 beats closer to a number of deadly conditions.

Laura Onderdonk

Medical Assisting Program Director, Carrington College.

For more information, visit carrington.edu.