Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure or arterial hypertension, is defined as having a sustained elevated blood pressure reading greater than 140 mmHg/ 90 mmHg on three separate occasions.

Blood pressure is the amount of force that is applied to our arterial walls as it carries blood throughout the body. A blood pressure reading of 120 mmHg/80 mmHg is considered ideal (there are a few exceptions).

When a healthcare practitioner obtains blood pressure, they use a stethoscope to listen to the arterial pressures of the brachial artery (the main artery of the arm). They also use a cuff which is tightly wrapped around the patient’s arm. The practitioner inflates the cuff (which restricts the artery), and a few seconds later, she/he begin to slowly release air from the cuff. At this point, they are listening for the first sharp release of blood through the artery (systolic blood pressure). The continued release of pressure from the cuff will allow more blood flow and the continuous sound will slowly fade. The last sound heard is the diastolic pressure.

Systolic pressure (top number), is the pressure of blood against the arterial walls while the heart is contracting. The diastolic pressure (bottom number), is the pressure of blood against the arterial walls while the heart is relaxed (in between beats). The units, mmHg, is millimeters of mercury, which is a measurement of pressure.

If you live with hypertension, it would be ideal to lower blood pressure to 140 mmHg/90 mmHg or lower. However, some elderly individuals may not be able to reach this number as our systolic pressures progressively rise as we age (largely, because our heart muscles begin to weaken).

There are several factors which contribute to high blood pressure. Factors such as genetics, stress, being overweight, deconditioning, having an unhealthy diet- high salt intake, excessive alcohol intake, tobacco use, and medications just to name a few. As many of these items are within our control, it is imperative that we make the lifestyle modifications necessary to help eventually reduce or even eliminate any hypertension that we may have.

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