What should I know about Hypertension?

Hypertension, also called High Blood Pressure, is when the force of blood against the artery walls is consistently too high. Statistics in 2018 from the American Heart Association show that over 100 million US adults have high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke. Because there are no obvious signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, it causes damage without knowing it. The only way to know is by getting your blood pressure checked.

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings

As the heart beats it pushes blood throughout the body creating pressure in our blood vessels. The pressure is a result of two forces, systolic and diastolic. The systolic pressure occurs as blood pumps out of the heart, and the diastolic pressure is created as the heart rests between beats. A blood pressure reading is made of these two forces. Blood pressure is written as systolic pressure over diastolic pressure. An example would be 110/75 mm Hg. The chart below provides guidance on blood pressure readings and what category they fit into. 

Hypertension Data Table by the American Heart Association.

Source: American Heart Association

Risk Factors

While there are generally no obvious signs of high blood pressure, there are risk factors that increase the chances of developing elevated blood pressure. Some of these risks can be controlled while others cannot be modified or are difficult to control.

-Increasing age

-Gender (male)


-Family history of high blood pressure


-Being overweight or obese

-Not being physical activity

-Unhealthy diet of too much sodium, too little potassium and increased alcohol intake

-Chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, obstructive sleep apnea

-Tobacco use from chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes or secondhand smoke

Prevention and Management of High Blood Pressure

-Commit to eating a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Limit intake of saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates and sugary drinks. For portion control, consider the MyPlate method. 

-Limit sodium intake to 1500-2000 mg/day. Start by not adding salt to your foods. Avoiding high sodium foods like canned soups, processed meats, salted nuts, pretzel and chips, sauces, dressings, condiments, instant products like flavored rice, instant noodles and ready-made pasta. Read the nutrition facts panel to find the sodium amount in foods. 

-Maintain a healthy weight for your age, gender and body type. 

-Stop use of tobacco products. Check with your provider on how to start a smoking cessation program. Avoid secondhand smoke. 

-Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for females and two drinks per day for males. 

-Increase your physical activity. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week or combination of both. Add strength training exercise at least 2 days per week. 

-Consider stress management techniques such as practicing gratitude, knowing what brings you joy and finding ways to incorporate that into your day or week. Reduce stress by managing your expectation, giving yourself enough time to get things done and knowing when to say no. 

-Take blood pressure lowering medication as prescribed.

For additional questions or resources, talk with your doctor or schedule a virtual appointment with the Registered Dietitian at your clinic. 

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