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What is hypertension?

Hypertension means high blood pressure. It’s very common. 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure. Hypertension can lead to serious health problems, like heart disease or strokes, which are common causes of death in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of hypertension?

Usually, people with hypertension don’t feel any symptoms. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because it can cause a lot of damage to your body, even if you don’t feel anything. The only way to know if you have hypertension is to measure your blood pressure.

How do I know if I have high blood pressure?

Diagnosing high blood pressure is as simple as measuring your blood pressure. Your nurse or doctor will wrap your arm in a cuff that inflates while they listen to your pulse. It’s quick and painless. You can also sometimes get a blood pressure check at a pharmacy or drugstore or use an at-home test. Some Planned Parenthood health centers may offer treatment for hypertension, while others may be able to refer you to somewhere that can treat your hypertension.

What do blood pressure numbers mean?

A blood pressure reading has 2 numbers. The first number is called systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second number is called diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart is resting between beats. The combination of these 2 numbers is your blood pressure.

  • Normal blood pressure: 120/80 or less
  • Prehypertension or at risk (close to having hypertension): between 120-139 / 80-89
  • Hypertension: 140/90 or higher

If your blood pressure numbers are high twice in a row, your doctor or nurse may diagnose you with high blood pressure.

How can I prevent hypertension?

The most important things you can do to help prevent hypertension are to eat a healthy diet, stay at a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking.

How is hypertension treated?

Hypertension is usually treated with a combination of diet, exercise, and medicine. Diet changes include eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and cutting down on salt, sugar, alcohol, and red meat.

Exercising regularly can also help. This means exercising at least 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. This can include things like walking, going to the gym, riding a bike, or swimming. Anything that makes you sweat and breath heavier. If you don’t have time to do 30 minutes in a row, you can do 10 minutes at a time, 3 times a day. You can also find small ways throughout the day to be active, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The important thing is to move regularly throughout the day. A doctor or nurse can help you figure out what regular exercise should look like for you.

Your nurse or doctor may also recommend medicine if exercise and diet changes aren’t enough to lower your blood pressure. Your nurse or doctor will help figure out which blood pressure medicine is right for you.   

What do I need to know about hypertension during pregnancy?

There are 3 kinds of hypertension during pregnancy:

  1. Chronic hypertension – this means you had high blood pressure before you were pregnant, or a blood pressure of over 140/90 before your 20th week of pregnancy.
  2. Gestational hypertension – this is when you develop high blood pressure later in your pregnancy, after 20 weeks. This usually goes away after you give birth.
  3. Preeclampsia – a combination of high blood pressure and organ problems or protein in your urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy or postpartum.

If you’re pregnant and you have hypertension and you aren’t treated, it can cause serious problems for you and your fetus, including things like:

  • Eclampsia – when you have preeclampsia and you have seizures
  • Stroke – when not enough blood gets to your brain, causing damage
  • Placental abruption – when your placenta separates from the wall of your uterus before you give birth
  • Giving birth early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • Low birth weight

Getting regular prenatal care can help you stay healthy during your pregnancy.

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