Understating Blood Pressure
May is Blood Pressure Education Awareness month
Blood pressure is the measurement of how much resistance the heart has in working to pump blood to the arteries throughout out the body. This pressure naturally rises and falls during the day, but when it is consistently too high, it is considered high blood pressure or hypertension.
According to the CDC, about 1 in 3 U.S. adults have high blood pressure, which can make your heart work too hard and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
“It is called the silent killer; you can have high blood pressure and not know it. That’s why it is so important to have your blood pressure checked,” said Dr. Greg Giugliano, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Baystate Medical Center.
May is National Blood Pressure Month, and a time to bring awareness to the importance of knowing your numbers and checking them on a regular basis. Dr. Giugliano offers the following advice on why it’s important to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
Know Your Numbers
The normal blood pressure range we want to see for most people is 140 for the top number, and 90 for the bottom number. For those who have other medical complications, such as diabetes, history of stroke and heart attack, you should stay in the range of 130 over 80.
However, the keyword when talking about blood pressure is range. There is no one blood pressure that you have that stays at one level all the time because blood pressure should fluctuate. When you’re sleeping it’s lower compared to running, watching a scary movie or being nervous. You almost never get the identical blood pressure readings repeatedly. They should be reasonably close, unless something happened in the interim.
Keep It In Range
The first step to keeping your blood pressure in the heathy range is to talk to your doctor and find out what your blood pressure should be. Once you get the recommended range, you can set a goal to lower it if need be.
Once you know your range and set a goal, there are steps you can take to get your blood pressure under control, including—
- Live a healthy lifestyle – Do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week and try to maintain a healthy body weight. To do this, stay active and eati a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol. Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).
- Take your medication and take it correctly- If you are having trouble, ask your doctor what you can do to make it easier. For example, you may want to discuss your medication schedule with your doctor if you are taking multiple drugs at different times of the day. Or you may want to discuss side effects you are feeling, or the cost of your medicine.
- Reduce your salt intake – Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises blood pressure in most people.
- Quit smoking – You can find tips and resources at CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Web site or Be Tobacco Free Web site.
The Harmful Effects of Hypertension
When exposed to elevated high blood pressure over a long period of time, the heart is forced to work harder. If your heart has to squeeze against high blood pressure over many years, the heart muscle gets thicker, which can eventually lead to symptoms of heart failure.
Keeping your blood pressure in a health range is important for multiple organ systems in your body to function correctly. If the kidneys are exposed to high blood pressure, long term damage can lead to kidney failure.
Know Your Risks
Some patients will have a condition called “essential high blood pressure,” which is a disease in and of itself. We do not know what causes this disease. Otherwise, there are things that can lead to high blood pressure, such as being overweight.
Family history also plays a major role when it comes to blood pressure. There are families that do have a genetic component to high blood pressure. Other risks include diet, caffeine, salt intake, and smoking.
Sleep apnea has also been linked to high blood pressure. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Those who suffer from sleep apnea usually snore loudly, and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. Treatment for sleep apnea has been shown to improve blood pressure control.
The Silent Killer
There’s a reason it’s called the silent killer- most patient have zero symptoms because they won’t feel if there blood pressure is high. You can go years with elevated blood pressures and have no symptoms, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not causing harmful effects to the body. If you start having hypertension symptoms, you should go to the emergency room immediately. This is referred to as a hypertension emergency. Those symptoms could be chest pains, blurred vision even stroke like symptoms. Again, the vast majority of patients do not have symptoms from chronically high blood pressure. That’s why it often goes undiagnosed unless you’re seeing a doctor on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for essential high blood pressure. However, there are treatment methods that can help get your blood pressure in the healthy range.
Blood pressure varies in patient to patient in how it is treated. For some patients it can be treated with one medication and other patients may require three or four medications. It is important to understand that treating high blood pressure is not a one pill fix. It is an ongoing process that requires a relationship with your doctor over time. Exercise and weight loss can help improve your blood pressure. By staying under your doctor’s care, they can monitor any changes and make adjustments to your mediation as needed.
As previously stated, treatment for sleep apnea can improve blood pressure control.