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High blood pressure

"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.

American Indian and Alaska Native women of all ages develop high blood pressure more often than non-Hispanic 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
  • Family history of high blood pressure
  • Not exercising

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.

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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More information on High blood pressure

Read more from womenshealth.gov

  • For Your Heart - This portion of the womenshealth.gov website escorts you through a short, confidential survey of questions about your health and lifestyle. Based on your answers, it provides you with a series of articles detailing the latest information on exercise, nutrition, smoking, diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other factors that affect you and your risk for heart disease — all tailored to your needs.

Explore other publications and websites

  • American Indian Health - This website is an information portal to information about the health of native peoples of the United States. The topics include cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and environmental health.
  • DASH* to the Diet: Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure Following the DASH Eating Plan - This updated booklet contains a week's worth of sample menus and recipes recalculated using 2005 nutrient content data. The "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" eating plan features plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that are heart healthy and lower in salt/sodium. It also provides additional information on weight loss and physical activity.
  • High Blood Pressure (Copyright © American Heart Association) - High blood pressure is a common but symptomless condition. Knowing about your genetic predispositions, making simple lifestyle changes, and talking to your doctor can help you reduce the risk of high blood pressure. This interactive website includes information on all this and more.

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Content last updated: May 18, 2010.

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