High blood pressure or hypertension is a major risk factor for both heart attack and stroke because it causes the heart to work harder than normal. With high blood pressure, both the heart and the arteries are more likely to get injured. It can also raise your risk of developing stroke, kidney failure and/or congestive heart failure.

Blood pressure is recorded as two different numbers, systolic pressure and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the higher number and describes the force exerted by the heart when it beats. Diastolic pressure is the force when the heart is at rest. If your top number is over 130 or your lower number is over 80, then you may have high blood pressure and should consult your physician.

In the majority of high blood pressure cases, the cause is unknown. However, there are several factors that increase the chance of having high blood pressure:

  • Age – the older you are, the higher your blood pressure can be.
  • Family history (including race) – if high blood pressure is in your family history, you will be more likely to have it. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure than Caucasians.
  • Excess weight – this is an avoidable risk factor. The heavier you are, the harder the heart must work to pump the blood.
  • Excessive dietary salt – too much salt in your diet may be a factor for those people who are “sodium-sensitive.”
  • Birth control pills – there is a risk of heart disease and stroke for birth control pill users. That risk increases for those who also smoke or have high blood pressure.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption – too much alcohol can raise blood pressure, causing heart failure and/or leading to stroke. However, some studies show those who consume moderate amounts of alcohol can lower risk of heart disease more than non-drinkers. “Moderate” refers to an average of one drink for women or two drinks for men per day. One drink would be: 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof spirits (bourbon, Scotch, vodka, gin, etc.), 1 fluid ounce of 100-proof spirits, 4 fluid ounces of wine or 12 fluid ounces of beer. Drinking should be in moderation and those who notice even one negative effect should quit drinking. Women who are pregnant should discuss alcohol intake with their physician.