Understanding Your Blood Pressure SUMMARY: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the most common health concerns among adults in the U.S. today. Hypertension is a condition that should be taken seriously, as it can result in further complications such as heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks. Understanding what your blood pressure numbers mean, along with adopting a heart-healthy diet and exercise routine, are important steps you can take to help keep your heart health in check.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 67 million Americans have high blood pressure. That’s one in every three people. If you are one of these 67 million, do you understand what your high blood pressure score means? If not, know that you aren’t alone. Lab tests and numbers can be confusing and difficult to make sense of. If you’re struggling to understand what your blood pressure score means, there are several websites and online apps that can help. Blood Pressure Numbers Your blood pressure score has two numbers, a systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). You may see your blood pressure score written as 120/80 mmHg or you may hear your doctor say it as, “one hundred twenty over eighty.” Your systolic (top) blood pressure measures how much force is being put on your arteries when your heart pumps blood out to the rest of your body. Your diastolic (bottom) blood pressure measures the force felt in your arteries when the blood is returning back to your heart. When you measure your blood pressure, it’s important to note that your score fluctuates over time. Typically, your blood pressure will lower when you are asleep and then rise again when you wake up. Exercising can raise your blood pressure, along with feeling stressed, nervous, anxious, or excited. It’s normal for your blood pressure score to increase from time to time. However, when your blood pressure level consistently measures above normal, you could be at risk for developing several health problems. “Prehypertension” is the phrase health care providers use to let their patients know that steps must be taken to avoid developing high blood pressure. One of the best ways to tell if you are at risk for hypertension is to measure your blood pressure levels over time. There are some apps where you can enter and then track your blood pressure scores with an easy-to-read table and graph .If you have measured your blood
pressure on your own and notice that it has been consistently higher than normal, it is recommended that you make an appointment with your doctor to have your blood pressure checked. In general, it is more important for your systolic (top) number to be in a healthy range. Complications The reason doctors prioritize high blood pressure treatment is because this condition puts you at greater risk for more severe heart or cardiovascular problems. These include heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, and heart failure. High blood pressure can affect other parts of your body as well. The extra stress put on your arteries can cause damaged blood vessels in your eyes and kidneys, resulting in serious damage to both. Hypertension can also cause problems with memory. It can prevent you from processing new information and from learning properly. Treatment Treatment for high blood pressure typically comes in two forms: medication and lifestyle changes. If your doctor determines you have high blood pressure, he or she may place you on a medication to help lower your blood pressure. According to physicians at WebMD, medications are most commonly used on people younger than age 60 who have blood pressure scores above 140/90 and on people older than 60 whose blood pressure consistently measures more than 150/90. There are several types of medications doctors use to treat hypertension. Drugs called diuretics are usually the first kind doctors will prescribe for people with high blood pressure. Those who suffer from certain medical conditions may benefit from a different kind of drug such as ACE inhibitors. These medications are especially effective in people who have diabetes. Pill reminder apps, can be very helpful when it comes to taking and refilling a regular blood pressure medication. Donâ€™t be alarmed if your doctor suggests experimenting with a variety of drugs to find out which one works best for you. Your doctor will probably schedule follow-up visits to make sure the medications are working properly and not affecting any other part of your body. While drugs have been proven to help reduce hypertension, one of the most important steps you can take to lower your blood pressure is to begin several lifestyle changes with a focus on heart-healthy habits. If you are overweight or obese, your doctor may recommend losing weight through a specific diet and exercise routine. It is often encouraged that people with high blood pressure adopt the DASH diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Recommended by physicians, this diet promotes
eating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat diary foods, while cutting back on items that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. For protein, doctors recommend eating foods rich in heart-healthy fats, or Omega-3 fatty acids. This means replacing red meat with options such as fresh fish and nuts. Your doctor may also recommend that you adopt the DASH Sodium diet as well. Eating too much salt has been shown to increase your risk for developing hypertension. The DASH Sodium diet calls for reducing your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day, or about 2/3 teaspoon of salt. In addition to eating healthier, your doctor may prescribe an exercise regimen to help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure. Aerobic exercise is any kind of movement that gets your heart pumping and blood flowing through your body. Most doctors recommend adults over 18 get at least 2-1/2 to 3 hours of cardiovascular exercise each week. This averages out to 30 minutes of activity 5 days a week. These exercises can include walking briskly, swimming, bicycling, dancing, or even daily activities such as cleaning and taking the stairs. Prevention High blood pressure is a disease that results mainly from environmental factors, and your risk of developing it increases with age. It has also been proven that hypertension runs in families. If your blood pressure score is steadily creeping upward, or if your family members have had experience with hypertension, there are several steps you can take to help prevent high blood pressure in your future. By maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, watching your salt intake, and reducing your stress levels, you can significantly cut your chances of developing high blood pressure. In addition, recent studies have shown that eating select nutrients, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and garlic, can all help reduce your chances of developing high blood pressure. Whether you have been diagnosed with hypertension or are looking to stay within the healthy blood pressure range, just a few small steps can make a dramatic difference in your overall heart health.
About the Author Holly Thurauf is a pharmaceutical apprentice at MyDiabetesHome. She is currently pursuing a PharmD/MBA from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.