High Blood Pressure

Every day, your heart beats about 100,000 times. Blood pressure refers to the force of blood against the artery walls whenever the heart beats. Its measurement is expressed as two numbers, one over the other. Systolic pressure, the number on top, is the pressure exerted when the heart beats. Diastolic pressure, the number on the bottom, is the pressure exerted when the heart relaxes between beats. Ideally, your blood pressure should be 120 over 80 mmHg or below.

It's normal for blood pressure to vary throughout the day. But when blood pressure stays high, you are said to have hypertension. High blood pressure is dangerous because it forces the heart to work too hard, which can harden the arteries.

Fact

High blood pressure brings more people to a doctor's office than any other medical condition, according to the National Institutes of Health. Simply cutting back these visits by 10 percent would save $478 million each year.

Approximately two-thirds of all adults over age sixty-five have high blood pressure, which is 140/90 mmHg or above. Pressures between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg are called prehypertension, a sign that you're on your way to developing full-blown hypertension. One of the most frightening things about high blood pressure is the absence of symptoms. If you have it, you probably don't know it. The higher your blood pressure, and the longer you have it, the greater your risk for heart attack, stroke, and kidney problems.

The Thyroid Link

Both hypo- and hyperthyroidism can affect your blood pressure. Hypothyroidism can lower the heart rate to less than 60 beats per minute, which reduces the heart's pumping capacity and increases the stiffness of blood-vessel walls. The combination of these changes can cause high blood pressure. Anyone with chronic hypothyroidism should have her blood pressure checked regularly.

In hyperthyroidism, the body becomes more sensitive to the hormone adrenaline, which causes your heartbeat to go up. An elevated heart rate, in turn, can cause blood pressure to increase as well. In some cases, it may be just the systolic pressure that goes up.

Why It's Bad

Like high cholesterol, high blood pressure is a disease unto itself, but also a contributing risk factor for the development of heart disease. The condition has no warning signs or symptoms, but once it develops, it lasts a lifetime.

According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 65 million American adults have high blood pressure — that's one in three adults. Although the condition often occurs as a consequence of aging, not everyone who gets older gets high blood pressure.

If you learn that you have a thyroid disease, make sure your doctor monitors your blood pressure. Although treatment for underlying thyroid disease usually can sometimes correct the problem, some people may need medication to reduce their blood pressure. Making the right lifestyle changes can also help lower your blood pressure. Losing excess weight (even ten pounds), getting more exercise, and eating a healthy low-sodium diet can all rein in your blood pressure.

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