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Blood Pressure: The Highs

August 17, 2015 at 6:23 pm

With National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month behind us, one in every three adults in America continues to live with high blood pressure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 52% of those cases are not under control. Controlling high blood pressure starts with spreading awareness. Most of us have heard about the dangers of high blood pressure; but what is it exactly and how can we tell if we are at risk?

What is it?

Simply put, your blood pressure is the force used by your heart vs. the resistance created by your arteries – or the action that keeps your blood flowing. The measurement is typically read using two numbers (ex. 120/80). Systolic pressure (the top number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts (squeezes). Diastolic pressure (the bottom number) measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats.

Where do I stand?

The table below shows the American Heart Association’s recommendations for healthy blood pressure. Generally speaking, the higher your blood pressure rises, the more health risks you may face.

             Systolic Pressure               Diastolic Pressure
Normal <120 <80
Prehypertension 120 – 139 80 – 89
Hypertension, stage 1 140 – 159 90 – 99
Hypertension, stage 2 160 – 180 100 – 110
Hypertensive Crisis >180*Emergency care needed >110*Emergency care needed

 

How can I tell if I have high blood pressure?

The bad news is, high blood pressure is often referred to as the “silent killer” because many people experience no symptoms at all until they are in hypertensive crisis. Symptoms in this stage may include severe headache, chest pain, and anxiety, in addition to shortness of breath, seizures, vomiting, and unresponsiveness. If immediate medical attention is not sought after, your blood pressure could continue to rise causing a heart attack, stroke, or even death.

What causes it?

Although we can not say for sure what the exact cause of high blood pressure is, we do have a general idea of what conditions may play an important role. According to WebMD, factors and conditions that may increase your blood pressure are:

  • Stress
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Lack of exercise and poor diet
  • Older age, genetics, and family history
  • Kidney disease and thyroid disorders

How do I treat it?

The good news is, there are two treatments for high blood pressure: lifestyle changes and medication. Associate Medical Director at True Health, Sharine Wishart, ARNP, FNP-BC, tells us “Limiting salty foods and taking all prescribed medications daily will help control your blood pressure.” Some people can regulate their blood pressure with lifestyle changes alone, while others cannot. For starters, begin with these positive habits:

  • If you smoke, quit!
  • Stay physically active
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat lots of whole foods
  • Learn to cope with your stress

What is my blood pressure?

It’s good to know what your blood pressure is and there are a few ways you can go about doing this. You can go to your doctor, use a blood pressure tracker at home, or use a free blood pressure monitor found at your local Publix, CVS, and Walgreens. Make sure you call first to see if they have one available.

A few things to remember…

  • If you are measuring your blood pressure daily, take it at the same time everyday
  • Sit down and relax for about 10 minutes before measuring
  • Avoid smoking, caffeine, and exercise beforehand
  • Too much stress may change your results

Remember, do not rely solely on your pharmacy’s or your own blood pressure tracking devices. If you think you may have high blood pressure, make an appointment to see your doctor right away and make a plan together.

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