Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for U.S. citizens — and when it comes to protecting this vital organ, you know it’s wise to keep your blood pressure at a reasonably low level. The American Heart Association notes your blood pressure will be above 130/80 when you’ve reached hypertensive levels. And when this occurs, you should work with a medical professional to help you lower that reading. When left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, strokes, vision loss, or damage to other organs.

You may also assume that if you have high blood pressure, you’ll feel it in your body. This may not always be the case, however. Here’s the truth about what high blood pressure feels like.

What’s happening in your body when you have high blood pressure?

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The American Heart Association notes around half of the U.S. population has high blood pressure, but most don’t know it, making it all the more dangerous. When you have hypertension, it means the pressure of the blood against the walls of your arteries is too high. This can lead to arterial damage over time, leading to heart problems that can cause death.

To understand how healthy your blood pressure is, you should know what the two numbers in your reading mean, too. The top number (systolic) is a measure of how much pressure is put out when your heart beats. And the bottom number (diastolic) is the pressure between heart beats when your heart is at rest.

What high blood pressure feels like

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Will you be able to tell if you have high blood pressure just from the symptoms? Unfortunately, many people have no idea they have hypertension because they have zero bodily signs telling them something’s amiss. However, if you’ve had markedly high blood pressure for long periods of time, this can put great stress on your organs. This, in turn, can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and general feelings of malaise, eMedicineHealth suggests.

As one doctor told the publication, if you find you’re suddenly experiencing headaches and dizziness, this can be a sign of high blood pressure. You should also pay attention if you’re experiencing blurred vision, nausea, or vomiting. These can be signs that your blood pressure is now starting to affect other parts of your body, like the retinas in your eyes.

Since hypertension primarily affects the heart, beware of any chest pain or shortness of breath, too. And if your condition goes untreated long enough to sustain arterial damage, this can also cause leg pain while walking if you’ve developed peripheral arterial disease.

You should never wait for any of these symptoms to occur before getting your blood pressure checked, however. Many people have hypertension for years and never know. Make sure you know where your numbers stand.

Tips for lowering your blood pressure

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Exercise: It’s no secret that the higher body fat percentage you have, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure. For this reason, you should add in plenty of exercise weekly to help keep your body fat levels in a healthy range, the Mayo Clinic explains. The general guidelines suggest 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly or 75 minutes of moderate intensity work. Going for daily 30 minute-walks is a great way to get more movement in.

Eat the right foods: You are what you eat, and when it comes to blood pressure, food can make a huge difference. Add in plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep your nutrition levels up. Additionally, you should watch your sodium intake. Processed foods can be sneaky in terms of sodium — and too much salt is bad news for your heart.

Limit alcohol and caffeine: In keeping with a healthy diet, you should keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum, too. If you’re drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day, you could be raising your blood pressure by several points, the Mayo Clinic notes. And caffeine can also cause a rise in your numbers.

Ask your doctor about medication: If you’re having trouble keeping your blood pressure low with lifestyle changes, ask your doctor about medication. They’ll help you choose a prescription that’s right for you, and they can also help you understand how to check your levels on your own so you can see where you stand.

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