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Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When the force is consistently higher than normal, it’s called hypertension, or high blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, and this increased exertion can cause serious damage to the heart, kidneys, and eyes.
High blood pressure is a common health condition that affects nearly half of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because many people with the condition don’t have symptoms of high blood pressure, it’s not always detected early when lifestyle modifications may help to manage it. When you don’t have symptoms, you don’t know to seek treatment, which is why hypertension is known as the "silent killer".
#Hypertension, or high blood pressure, typically develops over years and many people don’t have symptoms. On the #MedStarHealthBlog, Dr. Carl Johnson shares how to stay on top of your blood pressure and prevent life-threatening health issues: https://bit.ly/3fEPDz6.Click to Tweet
While the disease isn't always preventable, there are things you can do to lower your risk or manage it so uncontrolled high blood pressure doesn't lead to a fatal disease. Here is everything you need to know about living with or preventing high blood pressure.
Factors that increase your risk of high blood pressure.
We can't typically pinpoint one primary cause of high blood pressure, but we know that there are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition. Some risk factors are out of your control, like having a family history of the disease and getting older. Other risks can be adjusted based on your lifestyle choices, like your activity level and nutrition. The following risk factors increase your chances of developing high blood pressure:
- An unhealthy diet that consists of food high in sodium
- Being age 40 or older
- Persistent stress
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Family history of high blood pressure
Sometimes underlying medical conditions, like adrenal disorders, kidney disease, or obstructive sleep apnea, can cause high blood pressure, too. Called secondary hypertension, this type of high blood pressure may develop more suddenly. Women who are pregnant may also be at an increased risk of developing hypertension.
Many people don't have symptoms until hypertension begins wreaking havoc on their organs.
If you don’t regularly get your blood pressure checked by visiting your primary care doctor, you may not know you have hypertension. Like other diseases, high blood pressure doesn’t always result in symptoms until it’s had a long time to develop and damage internal organs. Many hypertension symptoms can be signs of something else, which is why it's important to establish a relationship with a primary care provider who knows what to look for. The following symptoms may be signs of persistent high blood pressure, especially if the condition has been affecting your body unknowingly for a long time:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blood in urine
- Chest pain
- Worsening changes to your vision
Getting your blood pressure checked regularly can help you stay on top of your health.
Like other diseases, early detection of hypertension is critical to preventing long-term damage to your body. One of the best ways to maintain a healthy heart and stay on top of your blood pressure is to regularly get it checked by your primary care provider. That's typically the first thing we'll do at your appointment. You can also easily monitor your blood pressure at home.
A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers that measure how much pressure your blood exerts against the artery walls while the heart is beating (systolic blood pressure) and while the heart is at rest between beats (diastolic blood pressure). The top number is your systolic pressure and the bottom number is your diastolic pressure. The American Heart Association recognizes the following ranges to indicate whether your blood pressure is healthy or unhealthy.
- Normal: Less than 120 / less than 80 mm Hg
- Elevated: 120-129 / less than 80 mm Hg
- Hypertension (stage 1): 130-139 / 80-89 mm Hg
- Hypertension (stage 2): 140 or higher / 90 or higher mm Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Higher than 180 / higher than 120 mm Hg
If you have elevated blood pressure, we'll make a note of it and check it at subsequent appointments over the next few weeks. If you have high blood pressure readings on three separate occasions, your doctor will diagnose you with hypertension. If you ever have a critically high blood pressure reading, your doctor may diagnose you with severe hypertension which warrants immediate treatment.
Treating high blood pressure with the DASH diet, medication, and more.
For many patients, I recommend trying non-invasive approaches first to lower high blood pressure. For example, achieving a healthy body-mass index (BMI) may help resolve hypertension. Men should aim for a healthy BMI of less than 30, while women should aim to maintain a BMI between 25 to 27.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help, and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a common approach to eating that can lower or prevent high blood pressure. DASH involves eating foods that are rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, which help to control blood pressure, while limiting foods that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. The healthy-eating strategy incorporates a variety of foods in the right portion sizes so that you consume the appropriate nutrients throughout the day.
Many times, lifestyle modifications are enough to normalize your blood pressure. For others, blood pressure medication is necessary to keep your condition under control. If you're diagnosed with hypertension, taking steps to lower your blood pressure is important so that it doesn’t lead to a fatal event like stroke or heart attack, which are the leading causes of death in the United States.
Having a primary care provider is key to lowering your risk or managing your hypertension.
Aside from maintaining a healthy lifestyle that incorporates a nutrient-dense diet and regular exercise, having a primary care provider you trust is the best way to lower your risk of developing hypertension. When you have a primary care doctor, you can expect them to regularly check your blood pressure and notice when something is abnormal. They can also offer recommendations that will help you maintain normal blood pressure.
If you have a primary care provider, you can be sure that any signs of hypertension are caught early before it has too much time to damage your body and lead to something more serious, like cardiovascular disease. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, a primary care provider can be your partner in managing your condition, too. Together, you two will create a plan to get your blood pressure under control which can be adjusted over time, if necessary. If you take any medication, your doctor can ensure that it's working and help you manage any side effects so that it doesn't interfere with your quality of life.