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Minority Women's Health

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High blood pressure

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"Blood pressure" is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps out blood. If this pressure rises and stays high over time, it's called high blood pressure. With high blood pressure, or hypertension, the blood can't flow easily through your blood vessels. This puts pressure on your vessels, which damages the vessels and strains your heart. As a result, blood doesn't flow as well to your organs, and you can have a heart attack, stroke, eye problems, or kidney problems. If your blood pressure is above normal range, but not high enough to have high blood pressure, then you have prehypertension. This means that you don't have high blood pressure now but are likely to develop it in the future. Even levels slightly above normal increase your heart disease risk.

High blood pressure has no symptoms. All people should have their blood pressure checked at least every two years. Ask your doctor if you need your blood pressure checked more often.

African-American women develop high blood pressure earlier in life and have higher average blood pressures compared with white women. Some things increase your chances of having high blood pressure:

  • Increasing age (middle aged or older)
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity (or being overweight)
  • Alcohol use
  • Eating too much salt
  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Not exercising

Making some lifestyle changes can help prevent or control high blood pressure:

  • If you are overweight, lose weight. Losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days of the week
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Limit salt.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit. For help along the way, check out our Quitting Smoking section.
  • If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink per day.
  • Reduce stress.
  • If needed, take medicine to control blood pressure as prescribed by your doctor.

If you have high blood pressure or pre-high blood pressure, you have a higher risk of diabetes. Ask your doctor if you need to be tested for diabetes too.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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