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Why is Your Blood Pressure Such a Big Deal?

Jul 10,2018

By Daniela Radulescu, M.D.

Blood pressure matters because when it’s too high it can lead to serious health problems: heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney disease.

That’s why statistics from the U.S., many Western nations and Australia on high blood pressure in adults are alarming—about one in three adults have high blood pressure, or have had in the past. Starting at age 65, women are much more likely to have high blood pressure (BP) than men.

There’s no better time than now to understand this common problem, and learn how to manage it for optimal wellness.

First, many people with high blood pressure (called “hypertension” in medical circles) have no symptoms at all. So unless they get their blood pressure checked, they have no reason to be concerned or take action. To understand why this is dangerous, we need to look at some fundamentals.

Blood pressure is actually the force that the blood in our vessels exerts on the walls of our arteries. This fluctuates because the blood is not pumped continuously from the heart. When the heart pumps blood we get our highest pressure; this is called systolic BP. When the heart stops pumping blood to the vessels, BP drops; this is called diastolic BP. A blood pressure reading is expressed as, for example, 140/90 (140 systolic over 90 diastolic). Over time, excessive blood pressure can damage and weaken the arteries.

BP doesn’t stay static; it varies for the same person throughout the day based on the physical or mental state. It is a complex regulation divided between the nervous and endocrine (hormone) systems and can be easily influenced by external factors like physical activity, stress and temperature. This is why the stress of a doctor visit can create “white coat hypertension”: we’re a bit nervous, so our blood pressure rises.

Life affects your blood pressure

Is your work stressful? Having relationship problems, or trouble paying your bills? Any of these situations can raise blood pressure for a short time. One reading alone isn’t enough for a diagnosis of high BP, however, and that’s why every visit to your healthcare provider should include a BP check. Your provider might ask you to keep a diary of your BP readings taken at home, or return to the office periodically for BP checks.

What’s normal, what’s dangerous

While there is some disagreement in medicine about what BP reading puts you “at risk,” we can look at ranges for normal and high BP. The current recommended range for normal BP is up to 139/89 mmHG (this means millimeters of mercury; it’s how BP is measured). Generally, the medical world views readings of 140/90 and above as high BP. Readings of 180/110 are considered “very high BP,” or hypertensive emergency, and call for immediate medical attention. Usually, the higher the BP, the higher the risks for health problems.

What you can do

If you get a diagnosis of high BP, the first step is to make lifestyle changes. Your doctor will urge you to stop smoking if you do smoke; find ways to manage stress; control cholesterol; enjoy regular exercise; lose weight if necessary; decrease salt and alcohol intake; and manage diseases that influence BP, such as diabetes and obesity.

If these steps don’t get your BP within a normal range, your doctor will discuss additional treatments that are most suited to you.

Do yourself, your blood pressure and your health a favor: eat right, exercise and live all of the “10 Essentials” to experience optimal wellness.

1. Monitor Your Blood Pressure
2. Hypertension
3. Lower Blood Pressure Reduces First Stroke Risk
4. Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

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