UNDERSTANDING BLOOD PRESSURE

 

Blood Pressure:  The Silent Killer!
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE is commonly referred to as “The Silent Killer” because many people have no symptoms to let them know that something is wrong. Some people do experience headaches or lightheadedness which they mistake for other causes.

High blood pressure can strike anyone at any time. That is why it is so important to regularly check your blood pressure.

Make a habit of taking the time to check your blood pressure wherever the self-service machines are available. If you notice that either your systolic blood pressure or your diastolic blood pressure are consistently over the normal levels (see chart on next page) after two or three visits, please see your primary physician.

What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is a very important measurement of the flow of blood throughout your body. Our hearts must pump oxygen-rich blood all the way down to our fingers and toes. Blood pressure measures the force of the blood against the artery walls. If the pressure is too high (hypertension), it weakens the blood vessels and strains the heart because it must work extra hard to get the oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

Blood pressure is measured by inflating a “cuff” around your arm. Two numbers are recorded—the first number is the systolic blood pressure and the second number is the diastolic blood pressure (see blood pressure levels chart).

BLOOD PRESSURE LEVELS

                                                                  Systolic              Diastolic

Normal                                                       < 120 and             < 80

Pre-hypertension                                         120-139 or           80-89

Stage 1 hypertension                                  140-159 or           90-99

Stage 2 hypertension                               > 159 or                > 99

Measured in mm Hg: millimeters of mercury

Effects of high blood pressure
Over time, high blood pressure strains the heart and weakens the blood vessels. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack and stroke and may also lead to blindness, kidney failure and heart failure.

What causes high blood pressure? 
In most cases, it is difficult to determine the exact cause of high blood pressure. We do know that certain risk factors play a key role in its presence: obesity (being overweight), inactivity, heavy alcohol consumption, age, family history and race.

Managing High Blood Pressure
Living a healthy lifestyle is the first step to reducing your blood pressure:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that is low in salt and cholesterol but high in fiber. Avoid foods high in saturated fats such as fatty milk products, red meats, spreads and dressings—these foods are high in cholesterol. Total sodium intake should be under 2,400 mg a day. Cook your foods without excess salt and use olive oil rather than butter. Eat more protein-rich legumes, fruits and vegetables
  • Reduce stress through relaxation techniques and a positive attitude. Stress causes your heart to have to work harder. Learn what techniques work best for you and then employ them daily. 
  • Limit alcohol to no more than 2 drinks (or 1 ounce of alcohol) per day. Heavy alcohol use can raise your blood pressure over time.
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight to lower your cholesterol and your blood pressure. A good rule of thumb is to strive for 30 minutes of exercise a day. Whenever possible, take the stairs rather than the elevator, and walk rather than drive. 
  • Stop smoking by identifying when you most like to smoke and then changing your daily habits to avoid those times. Smoking constricts your blood vessels which leads to high blood pressure. It also reduces the HDL—the good cholesterol that your body needs!

Blood Pressure Medication
When changes to your lifestyle still don’t lower your blood pressure, then your doctor may prescribe medication to lower it. It is extremely important that you take the medication exactly as the doctor ordered. Check with a doctor or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter drugs in case there is a conflict with your blood pressure medication.

The key to managing high blood pressure is to catch it and reduce it before it causes damage to your body.