Why it’s important to know your blood pressure

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What exactly is blood pressure?

Each time your heart beats, it sends blood to the body through the aorta and then through blood vessels called arteries. With each beat, the blood exerts pressure on the arteries, just like water puts pressure on a water balloon when filling it. When the heart rests between beats, there’s still blood in the artery but the pressure becomes less. The resulting highest and lowest pressures from these two actions, together make up your blood pressure measurement.

What do the numbers mean?

When you go to the doctor, you will often have your blood pressure assessed as part of the screening process. The result will come in the form of two numbers and is usually quoted as XXX/XX or “XXX over XX.”

The first number, called the “top” number or systolic blood pressure, is the pressure in the artery when the heart is at maximum output. The second number, called the “bottom” number or diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats. This process goes on with each beat of the heart. If you understand this, you will easily understand why having high blood pressure can be dangerous.

blood pressure, blood pressure monitor
Photo: Tunstall Telehealthcare/flickr

 

Why is high blood pressure a problem?

Arteries supply the entire body with blood, including the brain and the heart itself. Blood transports oxygen. If and when an artery is damaged, there is the risk of losing oxygen to the part of the body that artery supplies with oxygen. If either the heart (heart attack) or the brain (stroke) goes without oxygen for too long, there can be serious implications, including death.

Let’s go back to the water balloon example. If you continue to put water into the balloon, it will eventually pop. Or, if you keep filling and re-filling the balloon with too much water, it will weaken. The arteries work may be thought of in a similar way.

Applying pressure on the arteries with each and every beat of the heart (approximately 80-100,000 beats per day), can really weaken the arteries and put you at risk for serious health complications. This is why it is imperative to not only know your blood pressure, but to keep it under control by any means you can. Because it often may go unrecognized, high blood pressure has been called a “silent killer”.

How do I find out if I have high blood pressure?

There are a few ways to know you blood pressure. First, is an annual check-up with your doctor. If your blood pressure is normal, you will likely be asked to come back in a year. However, if your blood pressure is elevated, you might be asked to come back for additional screenings, or you might be asked to check your blood pressure at home.

Checking your blood pressure regularly and in a comfortable environment will give you and your doctor a better feel for what’s going on. In fact, a 2013 study says that checking blood pressure at home is one of the best ways to keep your blood pressure in check.

What are some ways I can get my blood pressure under control and keep it there?

While one bout of exercise isn’t enough to lower blood pressure, daily cardiovascular exercise can help lower and keep blood pressure to within a normal range over time.

Eating a diet low in saturated fats and eating healthy fats and fiber, while minimizing your intake of salt and alcohol can help maintain a healthy blood pressure.

The last way to control blood pressure, if you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, is to get and take the medication recommended by your doctor.

Unfortunately, there is no real way to know if you have high blood pressure unless you get it checked. This “silent killer” is sneaky because people may have a heart attack or stroke before they recognize symptoms of having had high blood pressure.  This is why it is important to see your doctor or check your blood pressure on a regular basis.

Below is a chart to help you understand what the numbers are and their categories.

 

Blood Pressure
Category
Systolic
mm Hg (upper #)
 
Diastolic
mm Hg (lower #)
Normal less than 120 and less than 80
Prehypertension 120 – 139 or 80 – 89
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 1
140 – 159 or 90 – 99
High Blood Pressure
(Hypertension) Stage 2
160 or higher or 100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis
(Emergency care needed)
Higher than 180 or Higher than 110

 

(http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp#.Vn2I70orLIU

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