It is National High Blood Pressure Education Month. When was the last time you checked your blood pressure?
I grew up with a mom who suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure) and would watch her take a daily prescribed medication to control it. Back then, I had no idea what having hypertension meant besides staying away from salty foods, as she would say. When I joined the US Army as a medic, I was able to learn a bit more, especially when my own blood pressure would escalate and I was given a blood pressure monitor so that I could monitor my blood pressure myself, something I still do weekly since I have a significant family history of hypertension.
I used to be one of those who thought that I would “just know” when my blood pressure was elevated. However, did you know that hypertension is known as the silent killer because many people never have any symptoms? And you may never know you have it until you get diagnosed at an annual doctor’s screening. That’s exactly what happened to me. I had no idea until I went in one day and was told that I was pre-hypertensive and needed to keep monitoring it.
So why is it important that you monitor your blood pressure?
Nearly half of all American adults have high blood pressure, and at age 50, your life expectancy is lower by 5 years compared to someone without high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and other life-threatening conditions, but it is also one of the most common controllable risk factors for stroke.
Your heart beats and pumps blood throughout your body. However, the strength of the blood pulsing through your blood vessels is what determines your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is too high, not only does it put a strain on your heart, but it can lead to a heart attack or even a stroke.
In the USA, high blood pressure is the second-leading cause of preventable death, but it can be prevented by making small changes. These small changes may mean a big difference in your risk for heart disease or a stroke. But how do you know you’re at risk? By getting checked, of course. It’s really the only way to know your risk. But do you know what the readings mean? Here is a chart to guide you.
Here’s something to note: Every 10-mm Hg rise in systolic blood pressure (the top number in a reading) increases the chance of death from heart disease or stroke by 17%.
This is why I advocate for obtaining a blood pressure monitor. They are portable and readily available with or without a prescription. Why do I advocate this?
Self-monitoring helps with early diagnosis.
When you monitor your blood pressure, whether daily or weekly, you can see your readings and will be able to contact a doctor if you see consistently elevated readings. Keeping a chart of your readings will also help your doctor diagnose you and give you the necessary medication if needed.
Gives you a sense of responsibility
Your health is ultimately your responsibility, and if you care anything at all about your health, preventing cardiovascular death will be at the top of your priority list. Knowing what your readings are may encourage you to be more proactive with your diet, exercise, or even medication regimen.
Eliminates ‘white coat’ hypertension
If you get extremely nervous and/or stressed about visiting the doctor, there’s a possibility that your blood pressure might be elevated during a clinic visit. Taking your blood pressure at home is an excellent way to rule out this kind of situational hypertension.
Helps monitor your treatment outcome
If you’re placed on medication due to high blood pressure, consistently monitoring your pressure at home is a great way to see whether or not your medication is working. Once again, keeping track of your readings will help your doctor make an informed decision about your treatment.
We all want to live long and full lives, but that won’t happen if we have no idea what’s going on. So check your blood pressure regularly and learn your risk by using the American Heart Association’s interactive blood pressure chart. Make changes that reduce your risks, such as eating a well-balanced low-salt diet, limiting your alcohol intake, getting active, finding physical activities that you enjoy, and managing your stress levels, whether by practicing yoga or mindfulness. If you’ve been prescribed medication, take it properly.
For more information on hypertension, visit heart.org/BPlevels.