Blood pressure readings are a routine part of annual physicals. But do you know what blood pressure really is and why it’s an important part of your overall health? We’re here to explain not just the fundamentals of blood pressure, but also why high blood pressure, a.k.a hypertension, can be so dangerous.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure will rise and fall throughout the day, but when it is elevated for longer periods of time, it is called high blood pressure. The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension. Because hypertension rarely presents symptoms, it is also often referred to as the “silent killer.”
What is the impact of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure can have serious side effects over time. Some of these include:
Stroke: Blood vessels that provide the brain with oxygen and blood are blocked or rupture.
Dementia: Over time, dementia can result from not having enough oxygen supply to the brain.
Vision loss: Hypertension can cause damage to the blood vessels of the eye, leading to decreased vision or blindness.
Heart attack: Blood vessels can become damaged and blocked, preventing blood flow to the heart.
Heart failure: Higher blood pressure causes the heart to work harder and become larger. An enlarged heart does not supply the rest of the body with enough blood.
Coronary artery disease (CAD): Arteries narrow with high blood pressure, and blood has a difficult time getting to the heart, leading to chest pain (angina), an irregular heartbeat, or a heart attack.
Kidney disease/failure: Damaged blood vessels keep the kidneys from filtering waste from the blood properly.
If you experience high blood pressure or are at risk, there are a number of ways to lower it, including lifestyle changes and/or medication. First, you have to know how to measure your own blood pressure at home.
How to measure your own blood pressure
Monitoring your blood pressure is an essential step in better self-management of your blood pressure.
- Take your blood pressure once in the morning before taking medications and in the evening before dinner.
- Sit with your back straight and supported, with your feet flat on the floor. Place the bottom of the cuff above the bend of the elbow and rest your arm on a flat surface (such as a table).
- Make sure to use a properly calibrated and validated instrument. Check the cuff size and fit.
- Do not smoke, exercise, drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol within 30 minutes of taking your measurement.
Once you are familiar with your readings, you can begin to make lifestyle changes that can impact your blood pressure. It’s possible to go from Stage 2 to a normal BP without meds!
Lifestyle changes that can lower your risk
Managing weight – If you are overweight, even a little weight loss can help reduce blood pressure.
Eating healthy – A heart healthy diet is high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Limit beverages high in sugar and sodium.
Physical activity – Staying active not only helps with blood pressure, but also promotes weight and stress management.
Limiting alcohol – Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to high blood pressure. Alcohol intake should be limited to no more than 1 drink per day.
Tobacco free – The nicotine in tobacco acts like a stimulant and causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
Sleep well – Not getting enough sleep or quality sleep is correlated with high blood pressure.
Manage stress – Stress can temporarily increase heart rate and blood pressure. Poor coping strategies, like poor diet and alcohol can lead to increased blood pressure.
Sometimes, you may also need medication to help lower your blood pressure. As always, this is a conversation you should always have with your doctor to ensure you’re making the right choices for you, your body, and your health. If you have more questions about hypertension and you’re own risk level, reach out to your provider today!