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How can hypertension hurt you?

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of the body. This force creates pressure on the arteries and is called systolic blood pressure or the top number. The diastolic blood pressure numberor the bottom number indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. For years, doctors focused primarily on diastolic blood pressure. The theory was that the body could tolerate occasional increases in systolic blood pressure, but consistently high diastolic pressure could lead to health problems. However, doctors now know that high systolic pressure is as important as high diastolic pressure — and even more important in people older than age 50. Knowing both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers is important and could save your life. The table below reflects blood pressure categories. High blood pressure (hypertension) puts extra strain on your heart and blood vessels. This can cause them to become weaker or damaged. The higher your blood pressure, the higher your risk of serious health problems in the future. High blood pressure can affect your body in a number of ways:

  • Your heart: high blood pressure can cause you to have a heart attack. It can also cause heart failure.

  • Your brain: high blood pressure is a leading cause of strokes. It has also been closely linked to some forms of dementia.

  • Your kidneys: high blood pressure can cause kidney disease.

  • Your limbs: high blood pressure can cause peripheral arterial disease, which can affect your legs.If you have other health conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol, this increases your risk of health problems even more. It is then even more important to lower your high blood pressure.

Prehypertension cannot be ignored either. Even if your prehypertension isn't that high, it's still tough on your body. You’re more likely to get high blood pressure and more likely to get high blood pressure. "It's causing the heart muscle to beat against a higher pressure,so the heart is becoming thicker," says Richard Stein, MD, who directs the exercise, nutrition, and cardiovascular program at New York University's Center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.

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