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Top 10 Ways to Avoid a Heart Attack

        Health | Heart

Heart Tip 6: Lower Your Blood Pressure

Having your blood pressure checked by a hot nurse is a good first step toward heart health.
Having your blood pressure checked by a hot nurse is a good first step toward heart health.
Stockbyte/Getty Images

A lot of people may hear the words blood pressure and not even know what that actually means. It's pretty simple -- blood pressure is the measurement of the force of the blood against the walls of your blood vessels. When your blood pressure is measured, there are two readings -- systolic and diastolic. The systolic part refers to the pressure when your heart is expanded, and the diastolic reading is when your heart is at rest. They're given as systolic over diastolic, like a fraction. 

The American Heart Association estimates that about one-third of all Americans have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and that a third of those people don't know it. This is because there really aren't any symptoms. It's called the "silent killer" because the only way to find out if your pressure is high is to check it. Some people sit down at the machines in pharmacies and grocery stores, but unless it's a new machine or you know that it's been maintained and recently recalibrated, you can't really trust those numbers.

If you get your pressure checked and it falls under 120/80, then you're doing fine. Anything between 120-139/80-89 is called prehypertension, and above this level is considered high. The first step in controlling your blood pressure is to have it checked on a regular basis. Once you find out you have high blood pressure, your doctor will ask you to eat less fatty foods, cut your salt intake, stop smoking if you're a smoker, exercise and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. If this isn't enough to get your pressure down, you may need to go on blood pressure medication like diuretics, which get rid of excess fluids and salts, and beta-blockers that actually reduce the amount of blood your heart pumps.