Understanding Blood Pressure

The impact of high blood pressure on your health and how to manage it.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measurement of the force at which your blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure occurs when your arteries, also known as blood vessels, become narrower over the course of several years. This occurs when the blood flow becomes too forceful and damages the walls of your arteries over time. High blood pressure is also known as hypertension and is common in the US with almost 50% of the population experiencing the condition at varying degrees based on a 2017 study by the American College of Cardiology.

What happens when you have high blood pressure?

When plaque (fat and calcium) builds up in the arteries they become narrower and stiffer, which causes issues with blood flow. As a result, the decreased blood flow can damage your organs and lead to problems like coronary artery disease (CAD), heart attack and failure, stroke, kidney failure and eye damage. In other words, as blood pressure levels increase, so does the risk of other serious health problems.

Lack of blood flow to the heart can cause chest pains, heart attacks and heart failure. Stroke can occur when the arteries aren’t supplying enough blood and oxygen to the brain and can result in long term disability in speech and movement or even kill you. High blood pressure and diabetes can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.

High Blood Pressure ‘The Silent Killer’

The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it measured by your provider. It is called “The Silent Killer” because there usually aren’t any warning signs or symptoms.

According to the CDC, 47% of adults in the US have hypertension, and only 24% of those adults have their condition under control. The CDC also states that just 1 of every 3 adults in America with high blood pressure don’t know they have it.

According to CDC, African American men and women have higher rates of high blood pressure than any other racial or ethnic group. These individuals are also more likely to be hospitalized for high blood pressure.

The higher your blood pressure levels, the more risk you have for other health problems and chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease (CKD), diabetes and heart problems.

What causes high blood pressure?

Early detection is key in preventing these more serious health risks. Certain factors can make The development of high blood pressure can be attributed to:

  • Genetics
  • Age
  • Race
  • Weight
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Drugs
  • Existing disease/illness
  • High sodium intake

Hypertension can be caused by genetic mutations abnormalities from your parents, and those aged 65+ are at a higher risk. Non-Hispanic black individuals have higher rates of high blood pressure, as do those with obesity and high sodium intake. High blood pressure is twice as likely to strike a person with diabetes than a person without diabetes.

 Read more about what causes hypertension here.

How to prevent and manage high blood pressure

Common lifestyle changes can be made to prevent and manage high blood pressure. A healthy diet is important in prevention and management. For example, limit how much sodium you eat each day to less than 2,300 mg. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and reduce your intake of saturated and total fats. Obesity also increases risk of high blood pressure, so make sure to maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise.

Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week, whether it’s walking, swimming, cycling, yoga or anything else. Read our blog on exercising for older adults.

The CDC also recommends getting enough sleep, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women and quitting smoking. Read more here.

How is high blood pressure treated?

While many doctors will suggest eating healthy foods, no smoking and exercise, you may also have to be prescribed medication if lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Common blood pressure medications include diuretics, beta blockers and ACE inhibitors. Find a full list here.

If you do have high blood pressure, you and your primary care provider should discuss what your goals are depending on your specific measurements and health history. Read about primary and secondary hypertension treatment options here.

Follow-up care is key to the success of your treatment and overall health. Be sure to attend all scheduled appointments and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s suggested that you keep a record of your test results and keep a list of the medicines you are prescribed and taking to keep your provider(s) updated on your most current health history.

Monitoring high blood pressure

It’s normal for blood pressure to go up and down throughout the day, but if it stays up then you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. As such, it’s beneficial to regularly measure your own blood pressure levels.

There are different ways to get your blood pressure measured:

  • Pharmacies, medical clinics and sometimes workplaces
  • During your annual visit with your provider
  • At home with a blood pressure monitor

Why should I monitor my blood pressure at home?

Although your primary care provider will take your reading during a visit, it is only a snapshot taken at that single moment. A home blood pressure monitor more accurately captures your blood pressure over time and gives your doctor a better understanding of your average daily reading.

Sometimes, having your blood pressure checked in a doctor’s office can lead to inaccurate results. This is due to a phenomenon called white coat syndrome – when the trip to the doctor’s office or just being in a doctor’s office causes your blood pressure to go up. Masked hypertension occurs when your blood pressure measurement is lower when you’re at the doctor’s office than it is during your day-to-day life. So, monitoring your blood pressure at home can provide more reliable readings if one or more of these conditions is producing inaccurate results.

The American Heart Association recommends monitoring blood pressure at home, especially for those with hypertension. Keep track of your blood pressure measurements with the P3 Blood Pressure Log.

How to use a home blood pressure monitor.

Watch this easy-to-follow video by American Heart Association on how to monitor your blood pressure at home. 

Book an appointment today.

Book an appointment with your primary care provider today to discuss heart health.

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