High blood pressure is a common condition and under the new guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association, nearly half of U.S. adults are classified as having high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine if you have high blood pressure.
Most people wouldn’t know they have high blood pressure,” said Kathryn Brim, DO, a resident physician at Samaritan Internal Medicine in Corvallis. “There are some very vague symptoms like headaches, not feeling well, or shortness of breath but generally getting your blood pressure checked is the only way to know if it’s abnormal."
Blood pressure is given as two numbers. The first number is called systolic, which measures how much pressure your blood is putting on your artery walls when your heart beats. The second number, diastolic, measures the pressure on your artery walls when your heart is resting. If either number is above the recommended value, you could have high blood pressure. The optimal range for blood pressure is less than 120/80.
"It’s a common misconception that having high blood pressure is harmless, however there are several long term consequences from having untreated, persistently high blood pressure,” said Brim. “Certainly there are several moments in life when an elevated blood pressure is expected, such as being sick, or nervous, like going to the doctor’s office. However it is abnormal to always have a high blood pressure, and treatment is recommended if you have persistent elevations over the course of multiple visits and multiple recordings."
Having high blood pressure can lead to serious conditions such as:
Blood Vessel Damage: With high blood pressure, the blood is being pushed through the arteries with too much force. This force can damage or weaken the vessels by causing them to harden and be less flexible or elastic throughout your body.
Heart Failure: Brim reports that hypertension is a strong risk factor for heart failure. Due to the stiffened blood vessels caused by hypertension, the heart has to work harder to move blood throughout the body. The heart overtime will develop thicker walls to work harder, becomes less efficient, and begins to fail to move blood forward. Imagine your morning coffee cup and the ceramic quadrupled in thickness, the amount of coffee in the cup is significantly decreased.
Stroke: Your brain depends on an efficient delivery of blood for oxygen and nutrients. With uncontrolled high blood pressure, the blood vessels in the brain can become stiff and consequently weak, and may rupture or form clots that can lead to a stroke or a collection of mini strokes.
Kidney Failure: High blood pressure can damage kidneys so that they can no longer filter waste from your blood stream, leading to chronic kidney disease and eventually end stage renal failure. If your kidneys fail, you may require dialysis, which is a machine that acts as your kidney.
Eye Damage: The eyes have a delicate network of blood vessels, so any increase in blood pressure can be especially dangerous. Hypertension can lead to blood vessel damage and loss of vision.
Brim reports that lifestyle changes are the best choice to prevent and treat high blood pressure.
Everyone would benefit from more exercise and more vegetables,” said Brim, who also recommends the DASH diet as a good starting point for people who are looking to make healthier food choices.
The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, encourages plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy and healthy fats, but sodium levels should be kept under 2,300 mg or about one teaspoon of salt a day from all food sources.
If you need medication for your blood pressure, your doctor can help you find the right fit. If you start incorporating lifestyle changes like diet and exercise, the amount of medication you need may change, so be sure and work closely with your provider to manage high blood pressure.
Brim advises all adults to know their blood pressure, even in their 20s and 30s. At your primary care provider’s office, your blood pressure is typically recorded to track it over time. But if you don’t go to the doctor regularly you can use a blood pressure cuff at the grocery store or pharmacy. Be sure and use an appropriate sized cuff for an accurate reading — the inflatable bladder should wrap around most of your arm.
As the American Heart Association advises: Know your numbers.
There are two main types of stroke – and having high blood pressure makes both more likely. Join us for the upcoming seminar, Learn the Signs of Stroke.