An estimated 103 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure or hypertension, according to 2018 statistics from the American Heart Association. That’s nearly half of all adults in the United States.

An estimated 103 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure or hypertension, according to 2018 statistics from the American Heart Association. That’s nearly half of all adults in the United States.

According to 2017 guidelines, a blood pressure at or above 130/80 is too high. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood pushing against with walls of the arteries. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body.

Our blood pressure normally fluctuates throughout the day, but elevated blood pressure can cause problems if it is high for too long. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, leading causes of death in the United States. Left undetected or uncontrolled throughout time, high blood pressure causes damage to arteries that can cause them to become blocked more easily or even burst. High blood pressure also can damage the arteries around the kidneys, interfering with their ability to filer blood effectively. Arteries to other areas of the body also can become damaged resulting in vision loss, sexual dysfunction, angina or peripheral artery disease. The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and not work properly, resulting in heart failure.

High blood pressure is often overlooked because there are usually no signs or symptoms. If you don’t get regular health checkups, you may not have a clue that your elevated blood pressure is slowly doing damage. There are some risk factors that indicate you are a likely candidate for high blood pressure, including:

Being overweight or obese. The more you weigh the more blood flow you need to supply your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated increases, so does the pressure to push the blood to all body parts.

Too much sodium in your diet can cause fluid retention and cause your arteries to constrict. Both factors increase blood pressure.

Too little potassium in your diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your body and helps the arteries relax.

Not being physically active. Exercise increases blood flow which leads to the release of natural hormones that relax blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.

Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary but dramatic increase in blood pressure. Chronic stress may lead to high blood pressure all the time.

Too much alcohol can cause constriction of the blood vessels leading to high blood pressure.

Smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels. Nicotine raises blood pressure and breathing in carbon dioxide from smoke reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.

Low vitamin D levels may contribute to high blood pressure by affecting an enzyme in your kidneys that helps with blood pressure control.

High blood pressure can run in families. Your risk for high blood pressure also increases with age. Black people develop high blood pressure more often and earlier in life than white people, Hispanics, Asians or American Indians.

Over-the-counter medications, such as naproxen or cold medications containing pseudoephedrine can worsen existing high blood pressure by constricting arteries and possibly damaging kidneys.

You can help prevent high blood pressure by having a healthy lifestyle, which includes:

A diet low in sodium with plenty of fruits and vegetables to supply potassium.

Regular exercise that makes your heart beat harder several days a week. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week.

Losing weight can help lower your risk. A waist measurement less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is desired.

Limit your alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women, two for men.

Quit smoking.

Manage stress. Avoid situations and people that cause you stress. If that isn’t possible, then work on ways to relax by doing activities you enjoy.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.