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Be aware of the facts about hypertension

Published Aug. 28, 2005

(ran SP, NP, TP, PA editions)

What is hypertension, and how do I know if I have it?

When the pressure inside your large arteries is too high, you have hypertension, also called high blood pressure. Even though the pressure can damage your organs and blood vessels, you cannot feel it; people with high blood pressure usually feel fine. The only way to find out if you have hypertension is to have your blood pressure measured by a health care provider.

What is a safe blood pressure level, and when do I have to start worrying?

A blood pressure level consists of two numbers: The first (systolic) is pressure within the blood vessels as the heart contracts. The second (diastolic) is the pressure between heartbeats; it hints at the resistance from the small arteries.

Blood pressure of less than 120 (systolic) and 80 (diastolic) is considered normal. Systolic pressure of 140 or more and diastolic pressure of 90 or more are considered hazardous to health. Blood pressure that falls in between (systolic pressure of 120-139 or diastolic pressure of 80-89) is considered a prehypertensive stage, when medication is not required but behavioral changes can be beneficial.

What treatments are available?

Several different kinds of medication are used to treat hypertension. Treatment is usually lifelong, so you should talk to your doctor about which one is right for you. Let your doctor know if you're having problems or side effects and if you want to try a different medicine.

If you are prehypertensive, changes in lifestyle are recommended to keep pressure from escalating and to improve overall health. These include losing weight, staying physically active, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and salt intake, and adopting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.