Dr. Mark Guelzow, Catholic Health Physician Partners Primary Care Physician, shares what you need to know about blood pressure.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the measured force of blood flowing through the body's vessels. This happens due to the heart pumping or contracting in response to electrical signals. Without this pressure, our body would be unable to deliver oxygen from our lungs to our vital organs. This force is expressed in two numbers:
- Systolic pressure—the top number
- Diastolic pressure—the bottom number
What is considered high blood pressure?
The American Heart Association recognizes five blood pressure ranges.
- Normal. A blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 mm Hg is considered within the normal range.
- Elevated. Blood pressure reading consistently ranging from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic.
- Hypertension Stage 1. Blood pressure reading consistently ranging from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic.
- Hypertension Stage 2. Blood pressure reading consistently ranging at 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
- Hypertensive crisis. Blood pressure reading suddenly exceeds 180/120 mm. Requires medical attention.
The American Heart Association estimates that nearly half of all American adults suffer from high blood pressure, whether they know it or not. For this reason, hypertension is often described as a “silent killer.”
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What happens if I have increased blood pressure?
Increased blood pressure over a long time is referred to as hypertension or high blood pressure. This causes several problems.
- Increases the force necessary for the heart to pump blood over time and stresses the heart muscle. The heart compensates by enlarging and eventually failing to pump effectively.
- Overloading vital organs (such as the kidneys) with excessive force and pressure leads to eventual damage.
- Excessive pressure damages the lining of blood vessels leading to narrowing and blockage called atherosclerosis. This is often a problem in coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease.
- Damaged arteries may leak or balloon outwards, resulting in aneurysms and ruptures. In the abdomen, this can lead to an internal hemorrhage. In the brain, this can lead to a stroke.
What affects my blood pressure?
Blood pressure is affected by a multitude of factors. The most important way to prevent the development of high blood pressure is by leading a healthy lifestyle.
- Quit smoking
- Lose weight
- Make sleep a priority
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Eat a diet that is low in sodium and saturated fats
- Exercise regularly
- Manage stress
Increased blood pressure is one of the body’s natural responses to perceived threats. This stress-response system functions as a survival mechanism in the short term. But, long term, it can negatively impact our health in several ways.
While we can rarely control stress, how we react to this is up to us. Lower your blood pressure by finding a healthy outlet for stress that fits your lifestyle. Consider starting yoga, cardiovascular exercise, journaling, meditation, prayer, music, creative endeavors, hobbies, time outside, counseling and relaxation techniques.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Most of the time, there are no apparent symptoms of high blood pressure. So it's important to make an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP). Your PCP will take your blood pressure and talk to you about the best ways to stay healthy and, if necessary, prescribe a medication to control your blood pressure.
Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.