Heart Health Information

red heart surrounded by light blue stethoscope

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is having blood pressure higher than 130/80 mmHg. It is normal to have high blood pressure for short periods of time, but when your blood pressure stays high most of the time, it can cause serious health issues such as a heart attack or stroke. For most adults, hypertension develops gradually over many years without an identifiable cause (primary hypertension), but for others it is a sign of an underlying disease (secondary hypertension) such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism.

Why is hypertension so dangerous?

High blood pressure causes more pressure and strain on your artery walls and can damage your blood vessels and organs. The increased pressure inside the vessels causes damage to the inner lining of the arteries, which leads to plaque formation, or atherosclerosis. This plaque formation causes the inside of the vessel to narrow over time if not stopped, putting you at risk for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to:

  • Vision loss
  • Loss of kidney function
  • Metabolic syndrome (high triglycerides; low HDL, “the good cholesterol;” and high insulin levels)
  • Increased risk for diabetes
  • Memory loss or dementia
  • Aneurysm
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Heart failure

Are you at risk?

There are many risk factors that can contribute to the development of hypertension:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight
  • A salt-rich diet through processed and fatty foods
  • Diet low in potassium – potassium can help balance sodium in your cells
  • Alcohol and/or tobacco use
  • Stress
  • Family history of hypertension
  • Age – prevalence is higher in people over age 60
  • Race – African-American adults are at higher risk than white or Hispanic adults
  • Sex – men are more prone to hypertension at younger ages; women are more prone at older ages
  • Certain chronic conditions such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea

Reduce your risk

Whether or not you are at risk for or have been living with hypertension for a while, you can choose to make changes now to lead a healthier lifestyle. Get started by making small but effective changes to reduce your risk of developing hypertension or life-threatening complications of hypertension. Not all risk factors can be modified, but adjusting the ones we can control may be the beginning to a heart-healthier you!

  • Have regular check-ups with your doctor to have your blood pressure checked and discuss your risks. Need a doctor? Visit the Network Directory for a list of physicians.
  • Track your blood pressure (click here for a printable tracker sheet).
  • Eat a healthier diet with less salt. Try the DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
  • Exercise regularly. Click here for more tips on Getting Active to Control Your Blood Pressure.
  • Commit to quit tobacco. Need help quitting? Visit the Health Resources Tobacco page for more resources.
  • Maintain a healthy weight or lose extra weight (GatorCare members are eligible for a discounted WW membership).
  • Limit/decrease alcohol consumption.
  • Practice relaxation or slow, deep breathing. Learn some new relaxation or meditation techniques here.
  • Take your medications as prescribed. Keep a medication chart to keep up with medication details.