Did you know…getting the facts about high blood pressure can save your life?

Editor June 13th, 2011

Hypertension is the medical term for what is often called high blood pressure, or high "pressure," a serious condition that, when left untreated, can lead to heart attack and stroke.

It's no secret that high blood pressure is bad for your health. But in order to prevent or control it, let's take a minute to understand just what it is.

What is blood pressure?

Your heart pumps blood out to your body in passageways called arteries.  When this happens, blood pushes against the walls of the arteries, creating a force called blood pressure.

When you get your blood pressure checked, it is given as two numbers.  The first number (or the one on top of the fraction) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, pumping blood.  This is called systolic blood pressure.  The second number (or number on the bottom of the fraction) is the pressure in your arteries between heart beats.  This is called diastolic blood pressure.  Blood pressure is written as systolic pressure/diastolic pressure, for example 120/80.  This can be read out loud as "120 over 80."

What do these numbers mean?


Systolic Blood Pressure (top number)

Diastolic Blood Pressure (Bottom Number)

No Hypertension

Less than 120

Less than 80

Prehypertension (You don't currently have hypertension, but you may develop it in the future) 




140 or greater

90 or greater

What is happening in my body if I have high blood pressure ?

In healthy people, arteries are pretty flexible, so they stretch when blood passes through them.  However, in people who have high blood pressure (hypertension), the heart has to pump blood with greater force, causing the arteries to stretch too much.  This can lead to a lot of bad things, like blood passageways breaking or scarring, blood clots, as well as cholesterol and plaque build-up.

How would I know if I have high blood pressure?

Many people go years without knowing that they have high blood pressure (hypertension), since they may not feel any different. That is why it is known as the "silent killer" because it can cause many very serious health problems including kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke.

However, a simple visit to a doctor, will tell you if you have this condition.  Harlem also offers many health screenings where you can have your blood pressure checked either by a health professional using the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope or by an electronic blood pressure machine.  Many pharmacies also have electronic blood pressure machines that you can use for free at their store or you can buy one for under $100.  However, having your blood pressure checked at a doctor's office is the best way to go, since if is high, you can get immediate help in reducing it.

What is having your blood pressure tested like? Does it hurt?

It is easy and painless to have your blood pressure tested.  As part of a regular medical check-up, health professionals measure blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope.

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