Hypertension 101: What You Need to Know
By Maria Wright, MD, NCMP
Hypertension – or high blood pressure – is one of the most common conditions we see in internal medicine. In fact, according to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC,) more than 75 million Americans (1 in 3 adults) have high blood pressure. Only half of hypertensive patients (about 54%) have the condition under control. Here are key things you need to know about what those numbers mean, how to prevent hypertension, and how to treat it.
What is Hypertension? Blood pressure – or the amount of force that blood requires pushing through blood vessel walls – is measured using two numbers: systolic pressure (top number) and diastolic (bottom number.) A normal blood pressure reading is typically less than 130/80. Hypertension is when the amount of force of blood pushing through blood vessel walls is higher than normal when the heart is working (systolic) and/or higher than normal when the heart is resting (diastolic). The condition is potentially dangerous; often times, it is silent. Prolonged high blood pressure can lead to stroke, kidney disease, and heart failure.
What Causes Hypertension and How Can You Prevent It? Like many conditions, family history is an important factor, but is not the only cause of hypertension. Lifestyle choices, such as excessive drinking (more than 1 – 2 drinks a day,) smoking, lack of exercise, obesity or too much salt intake, can all contribute to your risk of hypertension. Additionally, people who have other chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, sleep apnea or adrenal or thyroid disorders are at higher risk of developing hypertension. Knowing your risk, and adopting healthy lifestyle choices, as well as treating chronic conditions that might lead to hypertension, are all smart practices for preventing the condition.
I’ve Been Diagnosed with Hypertension. Now What? There are steps you can take to manage your hypertension and reduce your risks from complications. Please schedule an appointment with your primary care provider to come up with a strategy to control your blood pressure. If you haven’t made lifestyle changes and you’ve recently been diagnosed with hypertension, now is the time. Watch your diet, stop smoking, reduce (or eliminate) your alcohol intake, and start a regular exercise program. Work with your physician to develop a treatment plan that is sustainable for you. Your doctor might also prescribe medication to help control your condition. It’s important to take your medications exactly as prescribed, and know that medication is not a substitute for lifestyle modifications – the two work together to make an impact on your health.
Be sure to ask your health care provider about the best steps for keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level.