High blood pressure is one of those diseases that can trigger a cascade of troubling and life-threatening health issues.
When blood pressure stays high, it can cause problems with the kidneys, eyes and heart. It can also trigger a stroke. About 75 million Americans — 1 out of 3 adults — have high blood pressure.
The good news is that the condition is often easy to prevent or control. Realizing you have the disease and then treating it early can save you lots of money and heartache — literally.
Blood pressure is the force of blood against artery walls. Arteries carry blood from the heart to other parts of the body. High pressure against artery walls, over time, can begin to break down arteries and other organs in the body.
So, how do you know if you have high blood pressure?
The Silent Killer
High blood pressure is known as “the silent killer” because there are usually no outward signs that blood pressure is high. So, everyone — children, teens and adults — should have a doctor or health care provider check their blood pressure.
Blood pressure readings taken by a stethoscope or blood pressure cuff takes two pressure readings. The systolic pressure is the pressure against artery walls when the heart beats. And diastolic pressure is the pressure against artery walls when the heart rests between beats.
Measurements are written using millimeters of mercury, or mmHg. Normal blood pressure for adults is a systolic pressure below 120 mm/Hg and a diastolic pressure below 80 mmHg, more commonly noted as 120/80. Blood pressure changes when you are asleep, awake, excited or nervous.
If your blood pressure measures between 120 and 139 systolic and between 80 and 90 diastolic, you have what doctors call prehypertension. Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure.
If your measurements range between 140 and 159 systolic and 90 and 99 diastolic, you have stage 1 high blood pressure. With measurements ranging from 160-plus systolic and 100-plus diastolic, you have stage 2 high blood pressure. All three conditions need to be treated.
An Ounce of Prevention
Your health insurance covers preventive screenings* for high blood pressure at no extra cost to you. If your doctor finds that you have high blood pressure, you should start the treatment plan right away.
You can keep track of your own blood pressure with the arm cuff machines you see in a lot of public places, such as drug stores, some libraries and even your workplace.
Small lifestyle changes can be a big boost in controlling blood pressure. Three of the most common changes include:
- Improve Your Diet: Eating a heart-healthy diet starts with limiting the sodium – or salt – in your food. Try using low-sodium and no-added-salt foods and seasonings. It’s best if you can limit your daily sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams (about one teaspoon). Food labels have per-serving amounts for sodium and other ingredients. Some people’s conditions may require them to limit sodium intake even more. Also limit red meat, palm and coconut oils, sugary foods and beverages. Try the DASH eating plan.
- Get More Physical Activity: Routine physical activity can lower high blood pressure and reduce your risk for other health problems. Riding a bike, brisk walking, jogging and other aerobic exercise can do wonders. Try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. You can do your exercise in small increments. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests doing at least 10 minutes of aerobic exercise at a time.
- Limit Alcohol and Quit Smoking: Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. The Centers for Disease and Prevention recommends men have no more than two drinks per day and women no more than one. Smoking can also raise blood pressure, and it increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
If you have high blood pressure, get started today in taking control to improve your quality of life. Your body and your loved ones will thank you for it.
*Preventive services at no cost applies only to members enrolled in non-grandfathered health plans. You may have to pay all or part of the cost of preventive care if your health plan is grandfathered. To find out if your plan is grandfathered or non-grandfathered, call the customer service number on your member ID card.
Sources: Description of High Blood Pressure, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2015; Preventing High Blood Pressure: Healthy Living Habits, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014; Clinical Trials for High Blood Pressure, National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, 2015