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High blood pressure. New study casts doubt on the notion of normal blood pressure in humans

As stunning as it may sound, according to a 2023 report from the American Heart Association, nearly half of Americans aged 20 and over, or more than 122 million people, have high blood pressure.

And even if your indicators are normal now, they are likely to increase with age. More than three-quarters of Americans aged 65 and over have high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

A new study has found that most Americans don’t know the normal or healthy blood pressure range, but, amazingly, they think they do. And this is a cause for serious concern, writes Science Alert .

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The study was led by a health communications expert and a cardiologist. Together with health officials, they surveyed more than 6,500 Americans about their knowledge of blood pressure. They were recruited as part of the Understanding America study, a representative sample of US residents.

In a new study published in January 2023, researchers found that 64 percent expressed confidence in their understanding of blood pressure numbers, but only 39 percent actually knew what normal or healthy blood pressure is.

Such false confidence can be harmful because it can prevent people from seeking medical care for high blood pressure. After all, if you think it’s normal, why talk to your doctor about your blood pressure?

Part of the reason for this self-confidence starts in the doctor’s office. Typically, a nurse will bring a blood pressure cuff, place it over your upper arm, and take a reading. The nurse can announce the result, remove the cuff and write it down for the doctor. When the doctor arrives, the session may well move on to other matters without saying a word about measuring blood pressure.

This is likely because your doctor wants to focus on how you feel and why you are here. But as a result, you may leave your appointment thinking your blood pressure is fine, even if it isn’t.

About 70 percent of Americans have high blood pressure during their lifetime. Moreover, only 1 in 4 patients with hypertension has their blood pressure under control. And since high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, you can have it without even knowing it. To reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, it is very important to understand your blood pressure readings. This is especially true for patients with conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes.

Blood pressure is reported as two numbers. The first number is your systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart is beating. The second number, your diastolic blood pressure, is used to measure the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats.

Normal or healthy blood pressure in adults is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury. It’s a unit of measure that comes from early blood pressure devices that looked at how far your blood pressure could rise with a column of liquid mercury. For most patients, the lower it is, the better.

Stage 1 hypertension, which is the lower stage of high blood pressure, starts at 130/80. Stage 2 hypertension, which is the more severe stage of high blood pressure, starts at 140/90.

Both numbers are extremely important because for every 20 mmHg increase in systolic blood pressure or 10 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure, a person’s chances of dying from a heart attack or stroke doubles.

To avoid false certainty, ask about your blood pressure at every doctor’s visit and find out what the numbers mean. If your blood pressure is above the normal or healthy range, the Heart Association recommends the following 10 tips:

  1. Talk to your doctor. If you have high blood pressure, ask him about strategies for lowering it and how you can track your blood pressure at home.
  2. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and olive oil are good for the heart. Red meat, saturated and trans fats, and ultra-processed foods are bad for your heart.
  3. Cut down on salt, which raises blood pressure. Dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Even if you don’t add salt to your meals, you can still get too much from ultra-processed foods. One serving of canned chicken noodle soup contains 680 milligrams of sodium. One McDonald’s Big Mac contains 1010 milligrams of sodium.
  4. Limit your alcohol intake. Whether it’s beer, wine, or liquor, alcohol raises blood pressure. Alcohol is best avoided, but if you do, follow the Dietary Guidelines. For women, this is a maximum of one drink per day. For men, this is no more than two drinks a day. One drink is 354 ml of beer, 118 ml of wine, 44 ml of 80% alcohol or 30 ml of 100% alcohol.
  5. Be more physically active. Just two and a half hours of physical activity a week can help lower blood pressure. For example, this is a 30-minute walk five days a week. You can also change your physical activity by swimming, lifting weights, doing yoga or dancing.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight. Even losing a few pounds can help manage high blood pressure in overweight people. Ask your doctor about a healthy approach to weight loss.
  7. Manage stress that is bad for your blood pressure. While stress relief doesn’t always lower blood pressure, lowering your stress levels can help you feel better. There are many ways to manage stress, including learning to say no sometimes, spending time with family and friends, and meditating.
  8. If you smoke, vape, or both: quit now. Both methods of consuming nicotine are harmful to the heart and blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart disease to almost the same level as people who have never smoked. And the benefits of quitting smoking start right away. A recent study found that after just 12 weeks, people who quit smoking had lower blood pressure than when they were still smoking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommendations for programs and drugs that can help you quit smoking.
  9. Take medicines that are often recommended for people with stage 2 hypertension and some people with stage 1 hypertension, including those who have heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. Most patients require two to three medications to bring their blood pressure down to normal or healthy levels. A recent meta-analysis found that a 5 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure with medication reduces the risk of serious cardiovascular events by about 10 percent, regardless of baseline blood pressure or prior diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.
  10. Track your blood pressure at home. A self-tested, cuff-style monitor worn over the upper arm is recommended. Recording readings over time can help your doctor adjust treatment as needed.

High blood pressure is a silent killer. And prevention and knowing your indicators can save your life.

Focus has previously written about how to lower high blood pressure permanently . Researchers have named a diet that can effectively reduce and maintain high blood pressure.

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