Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a common diagnosis in the United States—in fact, 33.5% of adults over age 20 in the U.S. are considered to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is considered to be a reading higher than 120/80 mmHg, with readings of greater than 140/90 mmHg usually requiring lifestyle changes or medication for treatment. It is a common misconception that because many people have high blood pressure and because it does not have any symptoms that it is not a serious concern. In fact, having high blood pressure can put you at risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease, among other health problems. Some recent studies indicate that having high blood pressure, especially in midlife, may create a higher risk for dementia as well.
So what can patients do? The most important thing to do if you are concerned about your blood pressure is making sure to have yearly physicals, where your primary care practitioner can let you know if you require more frequent monitoring. If your blood pressure tends to run high, if you have a family history of high blood pressure, or if you are already on medication to control blood pressure, it is a good idea to get your blood pressure measured more frequently to make sure you are on track. Getting your blood pressure taken is quick and painless, and can be done at many local pharmacies and grocery stores. If you would prefer to monitor your blood pressure on your own, most pharmacies have meters for purchase, and some insurances will even cover the price of the meter if your primary care provider writes a prescription for it. When looking to purchase a meter, make that it has an arm cuff to measure your pressure, since other blood pressure meters (such as wrist meters) are less accurate.
Although some people may think that increased blood pressure is simply a sign of aging, it is not normal, and may be preventable. Choosing to eat a diet low in salt and high in fresh fruits and vegetables can help to lower your blood pressure. Staying in a healthy weight range can also help, since being overweight or obese can increase your chance for high blood pressure. Physical activity can help to maintain a healthy weight, as well as keep blood pressure in the normal range. For adults, it is recommended to try to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise, 5 days a week. Lastly, limiting alcohol and not smoking help to decrease your risk for high blood pressure and other health concerns.
If you do get diagnosed with high blood pressure by your primary care provider and maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t enough to bring it down, there are medications available that can be used to bring it under control. If you are started on medication to lower your blood pressure, remember to take it as directed every day, even if you don’t feel a change in your body. Take your time when standing up, especially getting out of bed, as you may feel dizzy when the medication is first started. Remember, just because most people with high blood pressure don’t have any symptoms doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. By living a healthy lifestyle and following the advice of your primary care practitioner, you can help to prevent or treat this “silent killer.”
For more information on this topic, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/