By: Jason Thompson, MD
Cardiologist at Birmingham Heart Clinic
Blood pressure is a measure of the pressure of the blood being pumped from the heart into the blood vessels. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can be a problem because it causes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. It also contributes to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular events such as stroke and ultimately heart failure.
A blood pressure reading has a top number (systolic) and bottom number (diastolic). The ranges are:
- Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
- Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above over 100 and above
- High blood pressure in people over age 60: 150 and above over 90 and above
If you have high blood pressure, the force exerted on your arteries is very high, which can create small tears in the artery walls. Damaged arteries build up plaque such as cholesterol, platelets and fats. The buildup causes the arteries to narrow and harden, causing heart disease. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can speed up this hardening process.
There are no specific causes for blood pressure, but the following factors can increase your risk:
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Cholesterol level higher than 200
- History of diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or arterial disease of the legs
- High amounts of salt in the diet
- High alcohol consumption (more than 1 to 2 drinks per day)
- Older age
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Chronic kidney disease
- Adrenal and thyroid disorders
- Previous stroke
- Sleep apnea
If you have three or more of these factors, you could be at risk for hypertension. Hypertension can be a silent killer, often having no symptoms and leading to cardiovascular disease. That is why it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. To learn your risk, call a Birmingham Heart Clinic location near you to schedule an appointment.