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High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and renal failure. The risk of disease increases as the level of blood pressure increases. High blood pressure is also associated with other risk factors.
Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood on the walls of the arteries and is written as systolic/diastolic (e.g. 120/80 mmHg, stated as '120 over 80').
For use in Australian surveys, high blood pressure is defined as:
The causes of high blood pressure are both biomedical and lifestyle oriented. Major causes include overweight, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, dietary salt intake and nutrition patterns which involve a low intake of fruit and vegetables and a high intake of saturated fat.
Stress raises blood pressure transiently but in the long term may have indirect effects by influencing eating, drinking smoking and physical activity patterns. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of heart attack and stroke threefold in hypertensive individuals.
For more information see Chapter 3 of Australia's Health 2010.