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High Blood Pressure, a Global Health Threat

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Heat map of the global prevalence of raised blood pressure

Caption: Blood pressure is highest in low-income countries
Source: World Health Organization

On Sunday April 7th, we mark the 65th anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO). Each year, WHO uses the occasion to highlight a particular health issue; this year, they chose high blood pressure—hypertension. It’s a timely choice. Worldwide, at least one in three adults suffers from high blood pressure. That amounts to 68 million adults in the U.S. alone.

Your blood pressure naturally rises and falls a bit during the day, but permanent high blood pressure is a dangerous condition that increases your chance of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and even blindness.

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries. It’s an indicator of how hard your heart is working. Measured in milligrams of mercury, your blood pressure is recorded in two numbers. The top number, systolic pressure, is measured when blood is being ejected from the heart during a beat; the bottom, diastolic pressure, is the pressure in the arteries in between beats, when the valve above the heart is closed. The table below explains the ranges of normal vs. high blood pressure.

Aside from taking medications, there’s quite a lot you can do to lower your blood pressure: eat less salt, drink responsibly, eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, don’t smoke, and exercise regularly.

To learn more:

WHO: World Health Day

NHLBI/NIH—Health Topics: High Blood Pressure

CDC: High Blood Pressure