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Matters of the Heart: All About Blood Pressure

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – can lead to serious health problems if left untreated. “The lower your blood pressure, the better for your heart and overall health,” said Benjamin Vaccaro, MD, a Greenwich Hospital cardiologist.

What is blood pressure?

It is literally the pressure, or force, of the blood in your body pushing against the walls of your blood vessels with each heartbeat. The systolic (top) number is the peak blood pressure, occurring each time your heart beats. The diastolic (bottom) is the moment between each beat, when your heart is at rest. A blood pressure of less than 120 over 80 is considered normal, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

What is high blood pressure?

“Traditionally we considered hypertension to be a blood pressure measure greater than 140 over 90,” said Dr. Vaccaro. “The AHA now considers a blood pressure equal to or greater than 130 over 80 to be hypertensive because we have a better understanding that the higher the blood pressure, the more stress on organs over time.”

What are complications of high blood pressure?

If untreated, high blood pressure can lead to thickening of the heart, heart attack, stroke or heart failure. “If uncontrolled for years, many organs are affected, including the eyes and kidneys,” said Dr. Vaccaro. Age, family history, diet and lifestyle are among the risk factors. Sleep apnea and blocked kidney arteries can also cause hypertension.

How is high blood pressure treated?

First try lifestyle changes, such as reducing salt intake, exercising and losing weight. “Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do, not only for your heart, but for virtually every medical condition,” said Dr. Vaccaro. In some cases, your doctor may recommend prescription medications.