High Blood Pressure Awareness
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one of three adults in America has high blood pressure. This amounts to approximately 75 million people, only half of whom have good control of the problem. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the first and fifth leading causes of death among American adults.
The CDC started High Blood Pressure Awareness Month several years ago to help educate the public about high blood pressure. It hopes that all American adults will learn their blood pressure numbers and take steps to reduce them if too high. High blood pressure has earned the name of “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs and many people don’t realize that they have it.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood when it pushes against your artery walls. Your arteries carry blood away from your heart to other areas of your body. It is normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall many times throughout the course of a day. However, your heart can sustain damage if blood pressure remains too high for too long. Measuring your blood pressure regularly is the only way to know if it’s high, low, or normal. Most doctors include a blood pressure reading at every appointment, and you can also buy a monitoring cuff and take your own blood pressure readings at home.
Your blood pressure consists of two numbers. These are systolic, which is the top number, and diastolic, which is the bottom number. If your doctor measures these numbers at 120 and 80, he or she would tell you that your blood pressure is 120 over 80. The systolic number refers to the pressure of your blood vessels when your heart beats. The diastolic number measures the pressure present in your blood vessels when your heart rests in between beats. The CDC recommendations for classifying blood pressure readings is as follows:
- Normal: Systolic less than 120 mmHg and diastolic less than 80 mmHg
- Pre-hypertension (at risk): Systolic between 120 and 139 mmHg and diastolic between 80 and 89 mmHg
- High: Systolic over 140 mmHg and diastolic over 90 mmHg
- People with high blood pressure sometimes vomit or have headaches due to their symptoms, but they usually don’t associate the two. It’s much more common for high blood pressure to produce no symptoms at all, which is why regular monitoring is so important.
Long-Term Effects of Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure
When you have high blood pressure and either don’t know it or don’t take steps to control it, you could eventually experience decreased flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. This causes your arteries to harden, which is turn increases your risk of heart disease, heart failure, heart attack, and a type of chest pain called angina.
Stroke is another serious complication of high blood pressure. This occurs when arteries that supply blood to the brain burst or become blocked. The lack of oxygen during a stroke causes brain cells to die. If it’s not fatal, a stroke can cause significant impairment in movement, speech, cognitive abilities, and other essential brain functions.
Approximately one-fifth of adults with high blood pressure have chronic kidney disease. The number jumps to one-third for those with both high blood pressure and diabetes. Two of the biggest medical risks for developing high blood pressure include diabetes and pre-hypertension combined.
Risk Factors Associated with High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is closely associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices. These include:
Diet high in sodium and low in potassium: You can find sodium, an element in table salt, in most processed and restaurant foods. It’s important to know the sodium content of anything before you eat it. To increase your level of potassium, add more bananas, beans, potatoes, and yogurt to your diet.
Drinking too much alcohol: The CDC recommends that women limit themselves to one drink per day and men consume no more than two drinks per day.
Obesity: Obesity means that your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or greater. Morbidly obese people have a BMI over 40 and are at least 100 pounds overweight. Obesity significantly increases bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels while reducing the good cholesterol your body needs.
Physical inactivity: Most people think they move more than they really do. Consider buying an activity tracker to determine where you’re at right now and then set small goals to increase your activity level.
Smoking: Cigarettes and chewing tobacco damage your heart and blood vessels. Inhaling the carcinogens in tobacco increases the amount of carbon dioxide present in your blood, which then reduces the amount of oxygen available for your blood to carry and distribute throughout your body.
Family history also plays an important role in who will and will not develop high blood pressure. The risk increases with age as well. Men and women develop high blood pressure at about the same rate, and people of African-American heritage are significantly more likely to have it than people of other races.
Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits and See Your Doctor Regularly
You can dramatically reduce the likelihood of high blood pressure by changing the lifestyle factors listed above and managing any other health conditions you have to the best of your ability. This is especially important if you have diabetes or pre-hypertension. We also encourage you to schedule regular physical exams with your primary care provider at UPMC Western Maryland. With our numerous heart health resources nearby, he or she can easily refer you to a cardiologist if you require further testing or more intense intervention.
Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.