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5 things to know about blood pressure

What is blood pressure?
Arterial blood pressure is due to the pressure exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. The heart acts like a pump and with each beat causes an increase in the arterial pressure. At the exit from the heart the arterial blood pressure varies between two measurements : the highest one is called the maximum or systolic blood pressure and it corresponds to the contraction of the heart that pushes the blood into the arteries. The lowest measurement is called the minimum or diastolic blood pressure and corresponds to the pressure of the blood between two contractions.

How is blood pressure measured?
Arterial blood pressure is measured using an inflatable cuff placed on the arm or on the wrist and should be done after at least five minutes of rest, in the sitting position or lying down. The pressure that occurs in the artery of the arm is measured while deflating the cuff. The blood pressure measurement is defined by two numbers : The systolic blood pressure and the diastolic blood pressure. Several devices can be used : an automatic blood pressure monitor with display of the measurements; a graduated scale or a mercury column blood pressure monitor.

What is hypertension?
One is hypertensive if, at several readings, the blood pressure levels reach or exceed 140/90 mmHg, the blood pressure being measured at rest and in the doctor's office. These two numbers correspond to a systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg . It is in virtue of regular blood pressure measurement that this disease - often remaining asymptomatic for a long time - can be discovered.

What are the causes of high blood pressure?
In the great majority of cases, high blood pressure is called "essential"; in other words, the cause is unknown. But, in a minority of persons with high blood pressure, an abnormality connected with kidney function or the adrenal glands is found : we then speak of "secondary" high blood pressure.
There is a multitude of factors capable of favouring the occurrence of high blood pressure : The fact of having pigmented skin, genetic factors, age, obesity, overuse of salt and alcohol abuse, etc. However, it has been shown, that it is possible to limit or to delay the occurrence of arterial high blood pressure in certain patients. The primary preventive measure continues to be lifestyle. Of these different measures, we can mention physical exercise, reduction in salt intake and alcohol consumption, weight loss.

What are the consequences of high blood pressure?
An excessively elevated arterial blood pressure initially acts on the blood vessels by making their walls more rigid and thicker. Over the long term, it can have serious consequences on the organs such as the heart, the brain or the kidneys. It remains an important risk factor in cardiovascular diseases. Of the consequences of high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack are the most frequently observed in persons with untreated high blood pressure. Kidney failure, angina pectoris (chest pain), paralysis, loss of speech, dementia are also some of the complications that can be caused by arterial high blood pressure.