What You Need To Know
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects approximately half of all U.S. adults. High blood pressure can cause many health issues, affecting vital organs, including your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. High Blood Pressure Education Month is an excellent time to learn about blood pressure and how to take action to lower your blood pressure to reduce the risks of potential health problems.
“The Silent Killer”
A 2020 study by the American Heart Association found that about one in three adults with high blood pressure is unaware of their blood pressure and is not receiving treatment to control it. In most cases, high blood pressure has no noticeable symptoms or only minor ones, so it’s sometimes known as “the silent killer.”
Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of severe health problems, including heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and also the most controllable risk factor for stroke.
Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected. And once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it.
What Is Blood Pressure & How Is It Measured?
The heart pumps blood through the arteries, carrying blood to other parts of the body. As the blood travels through the arteries, it puts pressure on the artery walls.
Two numbers are used to measure blood pressure:
- Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
- Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
If the measurement reads 120 systolic and 80 diastolic, your blood pressure reading would be, “120 over 80,” or written as, “120/80 mmHg.”
What Is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Activity throughout the day can affect your blood pressure. A diagnosis of high blood pressure is when your blood pressure measures are consistently above normal. The higher your blood pressure levels, the more you risk other health problems, such as heart disease.
Detecting High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, it’s good to monitor it regularly. Awareness of your numbers can alert you to changes and patterns. In addition, tracking your results over time is an excellent way to reveal if you’ve made changes.
Managing High Blood Pressure
In addition to any medication, your doctor may prescribe to lower your blood pressure, you can make lifestyle changes that will help manage it. Even simple behaviors can make a noticeable difference.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt
- Limit alcohol
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Manage stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit tobacco use
- Take your medications properly
While high blood pressure is most common in adults, children may also be at risk. Although anyone can have high blood pressure, high blood pressure is more prevalent among specific populations, and several behaviors can increase your risk.
- Age: As you age, the risk of high blood pressure increases. For example, while men are more likely to have high blood pressure before age 64, women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
- Race: High blood pressure is prevalent among people of African heritage, often developing at an earlier age than it does in whites.
- Family history: High blood pressure can be hereditary.
- Being overweight or obese: As your weight increases, so does the amount of blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. An increase in the blood means more pressure on your artery walls.
- Inactivity: A lack of physical activity tends to increase your heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries.
- Tobacco Use: Smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raises your blood pressure temporarily. In addition, the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, causing your arteries to narrow and increasing your risk of heart disease. Secondhand smoke also can increase your heart disease risk.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet: When you have too much sodium in your diet, it can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too little potassium in your diet: Sodium can build up in your blood if you don’t get enough potassium in your diet or lose too much potassium due to dehydration or other health conditions. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. A proper balance of potassium is critical for good heart health.
- Drinking too much alcohol: Having more than one alcoholic drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men may affect your blood pressure. So, if you do consume alcohol, do it in moderation to prevent the risk of high blood pressure (and many other health issues). That means up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men for healthy adults. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
- Stress: High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure. In addition, stress-related habits like eating more, using tobacco, or drinking alcohol can lead to further increases in blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, including kidney disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
High Blood Pressure and Women
A common misconception is that hypertension rarely affects women. However, the American Heart Association found that approximately half of the people with high blood pressure are women. In addition, there are specific factors that increase the risk of high blood pressure in women.
High blood pressure during pregnancy can mean that preeclampsia or gestational hypertension may be developing, which can cause many complications if left untreated.
Women with high blood pressure who become pregnant are more likely to have complications during pregnancy than normal blood pressure. Therefore, it’s essential that women with high blood pressure who want to become pregnant work with their healthcare team to lower their blood pressure before becoming pregnant.
Some types of birth control can also raise a woman’s risk for high blood pressure.
Menopause — when menstruation ceases — takes place for most women in their 40s and 50s. Even if your blood pressure has been normal for most of your life, there’s a significant chance you may develop high blood pressure after menopause.
High Blood Pressure Is Treatable
Know your numbers and risk factors to combat high blood pressure and the health issues that are driven by it. If you’re unsure what your blood pressure is, make an appointment with Vail Health’s Cardiovascular Center. Our healthcare team specializes in heart and vascular health, including helping with hypertension and the issues it can cause.
With the help of your healthcare team and commitment to making healthy lifestyle choices, you can lower your blood pressure to normal levels and enjoy an active life.