Have High Blood Pressure? Here’s What You Need to Know
Nearly 50 percent of American adults, including 20 percent of women of childbearing age, have high blood pressure. Many don’t even know it. High blood pressure (hypertension) is called the “silent killer” because it can put you at risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and sexual dysfunction, even when there are no obvious symptoms. Managing your blood pressure is something just about everyone can—and should—do.
This article will go over what high blood pressure is and what you can do to get and keep a healthy blood pressure, including its infamous connection to salt.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Your heart is constantly pumping blood through your body to bring nutrients and oxygen to your cells from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. Every time your heart contracts to pump, it pushes against pressure in your arteries. The higher the pressure, the harder your heart has to work. This can happen when your arteries get “hard” (tighter or less flexible) from plaque formation.
Changes that increase your blood pressure can happen slowly over many years or decades. And having high blood pressure may not cause any symptoms. This is why it’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
When your blood pressure is measured, you get two numbers: a higher number over a lower number; for example: 120 over 80. What this means is your systolic blood pressure (during your heart beat) is 120 and your diastolic pressure (between your heart beats) is 80.
Ideally, your blood pressure readings will not be higher than 120 over 80.
120 over 80 = normal blood pressure
120-129 over 80 = elevated blood pressure
130-139 over 80-89 = high blood pressure (stage 1)
140-179 over 90-119 = high blood pressure (stage 2)
180+ over 120+ = hypertensive crisis (see a doctor immediately)
One thing to note is that different blood pressure readings on your left and right arms may suggest that you are at a higher risk of heart disease. A recent study published in the journal Hypertension showed that if people have at least a 5 point difference in systolic blood pressure readings between the left and right arm, they are at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and they also have a higher chance of dying prematurely. The greater the difference, the higher the risks.
The arm with the highest reading should be the one used to measure your blood pressure. If you’ve never had your blood pressure checked in both arms, ask your physician at your next visit.
How Can I Help to Control My High Blood Pressure?
If you have high blood pressure there are a number of things you can do to help lower it. First of all, it’s important to measure your blood pressure regularly (and do other tests to know if your heart is healthy.
It is also important to take any blood pressure medications as prescribed. Be sure that your doctor regularly monitors your blood pressure and that you contact your doctor if you have any concerns.
Other important things you can do for high blood pressure include getting more active, reducing stress and showing more self-love. There is also a flexible, nutritious, heart-healthy diet that was created specifically for high blood pressure. It’s called the “DASH diet” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
We often hear about the connection between blood pressure and salt. Table salt is about 40 percent sodium, and too much sodium can increase your blood pressure. Salt is added to make foods taste better, but often contains more than is needed. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium each day, but less than 1,500 mg per day is even better. This means no more than a total of one teaspoon of salt all day long. Most of the salt we consume doesn’t come out of our salt shakers—it’s what’s already added to the packaged, processed, and prepared foods we buy.
When choosing prepared foods and snacks, opt for ones that are unsalted or lower in salt whenever possible. The only exception to this reduced salt recommendation is the one percent of my patients who have low blood pressure. In their cases, I recommend adding salt to their diets to raise their blood pressure to a healthy level.
When it comes to blood pressure, even if you have no symptoms, this doesn’t guarantee that you are okay. It is important to check your blood pressure (or have it checked) regularly, ideally in both arms. Plus, taking care of your overall health will benefit your heart and blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, this means staying active, reducing stress, and eating a heart-healthy (low-salt) diet.
Many women end up having a heart attack or dying from heart disease because nobody completed a good evaluation to let them know if their heart is healthy. The standard methods for assessing risk for heart disease have not been as effective for women as they have for men. This is why it’s very important to see a doctor who knows women’s health and can do an in-depth evaluation.
If you would like to understand more of the tests that you should have to ensure you heart is working at its best, contact us at nitzamd.com [LINK: nitzamd.com] or make an appointment by calling 352-717-0220
Alvarez, N. 2019. Heels vs. ties: Living with your #1 threat. RI-AL Consulting.
American Heart Association. (2016, October 31). Shaking the salt habit to lower high blood pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/shaking-the-salt-habit-to-lower-high-blood-pressure
American Heart Association. (2017, November 30). Changes you can make to manage high blood pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure
American Heart Association. (2017, November 30). The facts about blood pressure. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/the-facts-about-high-blood-pressure
American Heart Association. (2019, November 18). High blood pressure, unhealthy diets in women of childbearing age. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/11/18/high-blood-pressure-unhealthy-diets-in-women-of-childbearing-age
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