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Black woman taking her blood pressure at home

The lowdown on high blood pressure

July 05, 2024
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If you’ve recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP), or feel concerned about your blood pressure numbers, you probably have questions. The experts at St. Luke’s Health have the answers you need.

First know that you’re not alone: Nearly half of American adults have HBP—and many don’t even know it. That’s why having your blood pressure checked is so important. Getting the facts about your blood pressure is the first step to taking it in the right direction.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

When your heart beats, it creates pressure that pushes your blood through a network of vessels. If the force of blood flowing through your vessels is consistently high, you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. High pressure makes your heart and blood vessels work too hard and can cause damage, leading to heart attack and stroke. The tricky thing is you might not feel like anything is wrong. But once you know your numbers, you can make changes that matter.

Know Your Numbers 

Blood pressure is the result of two forces: Systolic pressure occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries. Diastolic pressure is created as the heart rests between heart beats. 

The American Heart Association has recognized five blood pressure ranges

Normal: Numbers of less than 120/80 (systolic over diastolic). Next steps: Keep doing what you’re doing, eating right and getting healthy exercise.

Elevated: Readings ranging from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. Next steps: Elevated blood pressure is likely to develop into high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control it, so talk to your doctor. 

Hypertension Stage 1: Readings ranging from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic. Next steps: Your doctor is likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and consider medication. 

Hypertension Stage 2: Blood pressure numbers consistently at 140/90 or higher. Next steps: Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication and lifestyle changes. 

Hypertensive crisis: Blood pressure readings suddenly exceeding 180/120. Next steps: Wait five minutes and test again. If readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately.

If you’re experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness or weakness, changes in vision, or difficulty speaking, don’t wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.

Know Your Risks 

Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing HBP. Some you can control, and some you can’t. Risk factors you can modify include:

  • Being obese or overweight

  • Diabetes

  • High cholesterol

  • Physical inactivity

  • Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke

  • Unhealthy diet 

Factors that can’t be modified or are difficult to control include:

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Family history of high blood pressure

  • Gender (males)

  • Increasing age

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

  • Race/ethnicity

     

Know What You Can Do About HBP

A healthy lifestyle can help you lower your blood pressure and keep it down.

  • Eat healthy: Choose a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

  • Get moving: Physical activity can help keep you at a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. 

  • Don’t smoke: Smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. 

  • Limit alcohol: Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should have no more than one. 

  • Sleep right: Getting enough sleep is important to your overall health, and enough sleep is part of keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy. 

 

Measure Your Pressure 

Measuring your blood pressure is the only way to know if it’s high. You can get your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office, at most pharmacies and at home with your own blood pressure monitor. Blood pressure monitors are easy and safe to use. Your doctor can answer any questions if you’re not sure what to do. Some tips: Take your blood pressure at the same time every day, take at least two readings 1 or 2 minutes apart, and make sure to record your results each time so you can compare your numbers. 

The experts at St. Luke’s Health will measure your pressure and help you find ways to manage it so you can live healthy with peace of mind and heart. Find a doctor at SLH today to get started.

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