affects one in four Americans
and often leads to a lifelong treatment plan
By: James Rogers, M.D.
A blood pressure reading is a pretty routine medical procedure. For the 50 million Americans with hypertension however, high blood pressure is anything but routine.
High blood pressure -- also called hypertension -- can have serious effects. It is often called the “silent killer,” because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms, but can cause major damage to your organs and body. It can damage your arteries, heart and kidneys. It can cause a stroke or heart attack.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers -- the systolic and the diastolic. Your systolic measurement is the pressure of blood against the artery walls when the heart has just finished pumping. It is the first or top number of a blood pressure reading. The second, or bottom number of a reading is the diastolic measurement. It is the pressure of blood against your artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed. Blood pressure levels at or above 140 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg.) systolic and 90 mm Hg. diastolic are considered hypertension.
Hypertension is diagnosed by a health care professional when your blood pressure readings are high on three or more separate occasions, usually one to two weeks apart. Except in the most extreme cases, a diagnosis of high blood pressure is not based on a single measurement.
Elevated blood pressure readings do not always mean that you have hypertension. For certain people, just being in a medical facility causes enough stress to increase their blood pressure to elevated levels. When this happens, it is called white-coat hypertension.
Once a diagnosis of hypertension is made, your physician will work with you to develop a management plan to try to lower your blood pressure. This can include medication as well as lifestyle changes. Overall, your treatment will depend on how high your blood pressure is, whether you have other medical conditions such as diabetes, and whether any organs have already been damaged. Your risk of developing other diseases, such as heart disease, will be another important factor your physician will consider. High blood pressure treatment is often a lifelong process.
Often, one lifestyle change will be adapting your diet. In addition to following special dietary guidelines for hypertension, this can include increasing potassium, calcium and magnesium intake, lowering salt intake and increasing fiber in your diet. Other recommended lifestyle changes might be for you to develop a regular exercise routine, decrease stress in your life and use stress management techniques to combat stress, stop smoking, limit alcohol use and maintain a healthy weight. You also may need to learn to take your own blood pressure at home.
If medication is prescribed for your hypertension, it is very important that you follow all instructions and take it exactly as directed by your physician.
There are certain factors that put people at higher risk for developing hypertension. Some of these risk factors cannot be controlled. They include: having a family history of hypertension, age - risk for high blood pressure increases with age for both men and women, being African American, resistance to insulin if a diabetic, sleep apnea and depression
Other risk factors can be controlled or eliminated. They are: smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, high salt intake, having a sedentary lifestyle, stress, low potassium, calcium or magnesium intake and long-term exposure to lead.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects one in four adults and often causes no symptoms, yet it can do major damage and can lead to heart and disease, stroke, kidney disease and even death. Living a healthy lifestyle, with regular exercise and a diet that follows the nutritional guidelines for decreasing hypertension can often help in the control of high blood pressure -- which is often a lifelong process.
So, the next time you’re at a health fair or doctor’s office and someone wraps the blood pressure cuff around your arm, pay attention to the reading. Maintaining a healthy, low blood pressure is important now and for the rest of your life.
Dr. Rogers is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.