Unless your experience is completely out of the ordinary, your blood pressure is checked on just about every medical visit, even if you are seeing your doctor for something that seems unrelated like a rash or a sprained ankle.
Why all this focus on blood pressure? Well, high blood pressure plays a role in some very serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, dementia, and more. Combine those risks with the fact that high blood pressure usually causes no noticeable symptoms, and you’ve got a good reason to focus on it. So what exactly is high blood pressure and what can you do about it?
Blood Pressure by the Numbers
Your blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure in your arteries at two different points during a single heartbeat. This is why you see blood pressure written as two numbers like 140/90 or 127/62.
We call the top number the systolic blood pressure, and it occurs at the moment the heart muscle has contracted and pushed blood out into the arteries. We call the bottom number the diastolic blood pressure, and it occurs at the moment the heart muscle fully relaxes and stops pushing blood out into the arteries. These two events happen once with each heartbeat.
The numbers that define “normal” blood pressure have varied over time with our understanding of the research and as the relationship between blood pressure and other diseases has become evident. In general, experts consider anything under 120/80 to be normal and recommend medication and lifestyle changes for anything over 140/90. The range of 120-140/80-90 is elevated or high, and doctors base the need for treatment on a variety of other factors that increase or lower the risks associated with high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can occur sporadically for a number of reasons. Stress or nerves, exercise, or illness can all cause a temporary elevation in blood pressure, this is normal as long as it doesn’t become dangerously high. But when blood pressure stays consistently elevated over time, we call that chronic hypertension and we start to think about an increased risk of things like stroke or heart attack.
Living With the Diagnosis
If your doctor notices that your blood pressure is high, he or she may want to see you again to rule out “white coat syndrome.” This is when people feel stress during doctor visits, so their blood pressure readings appear elevated compared to their daily norm. But once your doctor confirms the diagnosis, you will need to take action, usually in the form of lifestyle changes with or without medication.
Lifestyle changes generally include all the things we imagine make us healthy – regular exercise, limited alcohol intake, weight loss where appropriate, stress management, and smoking cessation. Improving your diet can help lower blood pressure directly as well as indirectly through weight loss. Try to consume a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats (avocados and nuts), while keeping highly processed foods to a minimum and salt intake low.
These changes have been shown to be effective in reducing blood pressure, and that may be enough to allow some people to avoid the need for medication.
When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may choose from a variety of medications because they act in different ways to treat hypertension. A medication that works for one person may not work for another person, and in some cases a certain medication may be chosen because it offers benefits in treating other diseases. For example, a person with diabetes and hypertension will likely start out with an ACE Inhibitor because these medications offer protection from the damage diabetes can cause to the kidneys.
Getting the right medication and dosage requires a good relationship with your doctor. They may want to see you more frequently while making adjustments. They may also ask you to take blood pressure measurements at home and to share those numbers with them. This is all to give them the best overall picture for fine-tuning your treatment.
Know Your Numbers
If you haven’t seen your doctor recently, do make an effort to have your blood pressure checked at least every two years. Keep an eye out for community health fairs, or use a blood pressure kit at home. If you want to be sure your blood pressure is under control, you can always make an appointment with one of our highly qualified healthcare providers in Hunt County. Contact us to get started on a relationship that will help you manage your blood pressure and any other health concerns that may arise.