Things You Need to Know about High Blood Pressure
Things you need to know about high blood pressure.
- Get Your Blood Pressure Checked Regularly.
- Repeated Blood Pressure Measurements are Needed to Confirm a Diagnosis.
- Don’t Get a Wrist Cuff or Finger Monitor.
- Make Lifestyle Changes to Avoid or Reduce Medication.
- Know the Signs of Heart Attacks and Strokes.
Blood pressure is the measure of the force your blood exerts against your arteries as it circulates through your body. This force is necessary to keep your blood circulating, but sometimes, that force is too high.
High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. The CDC reports that high blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for almost half a million people in the U.S. in 2018.
Educate yourself on high blood pressure with these four facts:
1. High blood pressure is a common problem but not well controlled.
The American Heart Association estimates that almost half of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. Unfortunately, the CDC estimates that only 24% of adults with high blood pressure have
the condition under control.
2. People of all ages can have high blood pressure.
However, the prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age. The CDC reports that 7.5% of U.S. adults aged 18 to 39 has high blood pressure, while the percentage rises to 33.2% for those between the ages of 40 and 59 and 63.1% among those who are 60 and over.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include:
- Being overweight
- Eating too much salt
- Lack of exercise
3. High blood pressure usually has no symptoms.
The only way you can tell if you have it is to get your blood pressure measured regularly. This can be done at a doctor’s appointment or at your local pharmacy.
Know the Signs of Heart Attacks and Strokes
Heart attacks and strokes are common emergencies related to high blood pressure and can be life threatening. “If you have high blood pressure, it’s critical that you and those around you recognize the signs of a heart attack or stroke,” says Knestrick. Signs of an impending stroke include slurred speech and blurry vision. If you begin to experience these symptoms or someone with you notices your acting strangely, contact emergency services (911) immediately.
It’s also important to know that the signs of a heart attack can differ for men and women. Some men experience chest pressure, nausea with or without vomiting, and cold or clammy skin. Women often complain of sudden-onset shortness of breath with or without chest pressure, generalized fatigue, and nausea with or without vomiting.
4. High blood pressure is a treatable problem.
Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and salt, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can help control blood pressure. When lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medication can get your blood pressure under control.
5.Don’t Get a Wrist Cuff or Finger Monitor
For people who want or need a home blood pressure monitor, it’s important to buy a device that uses a cuff above your elbow, notes Dr. Lawrence. Wrist and finger monitors are less reliable. It’s also important that you make sure that the cuff fits properly around your upper arm. If it’s too big or too small, you may not get accurate readings.
You can ask your doctor or pharmacist about recommendations for validated home blood pressure monitors. You can get home blood pressure monitors online and from health systems, pharmacies, and even some grocery stores.
How to Monitor Your Blood Pressure at Home
How to use a home blood pressure monitor
- Be still. Don’t smoke, drink caffeinated beverages or exercise within 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure. Empty your bladder and ensure at least 5 minutes of quiet rest before measurements.
- Sit correctly. Sit with your back straight and supported (on a dining chair, rather than a sofa). Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should not be crossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of the elbow. Check your monitor’s instructions for an illustration or have your healthcare provider show you how.
- Measure at the same time every day. It’s important to take the readings at the same time each day, such as morning and evening. It is best to take the readings daily however ideally beginning 2 weeks after a change in treatment and during the week before your next appointment.
- Take multiple readings and record the results. Each time you measure, take two or three readings one minute apart and record the results using a printable (PDF) tracker. If your monitor has built-in memory to store your readings, take it with you to your appointments. Some monitors may also allow you to upload your readings to a secure website after you register your profile.
- Don’t take the measurement over clothes.
Learn what the numbers in your blood pressure reading mean.
|BLOOD PRESSURE CATEGORY
|SYSTOLIC mm Hg (upper number)
|DIASTOLIC mm Hg (lower number)
|LESS THAN 120
|LESS THAN 80
|120 – 129
|LESS THAN 80
|HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (HYPERTENSION) STAGE 1
|130 – 139
|80 – 89
|HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE (HYPERTENSION) STAGE 2
|140 OR HIGHER
|90 OR HIGHER
|HYPERTENSIVE CRISIS (consult your doctor immediately)
|HIGHER THAN 180
|HIGHER THAN 120
Note: A diagnosis of high blood pressure must be confirmed with a medical professional. A doctor should also evaluate any unusually low blood pressure readings.
If you get a high blood pressure reading
- A single high reading is not an immediate cause for alarm. If you get a reading that is slightly or moderately higher than normal, take your blood pressure a few more times and consult your healthcare professional to verify if there’ s a health concern or whether there may be any issues with your monitor.
- If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.
- If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
The American Heart Association recommends home monitoring for all people with high blood pressure to help the healthcare provider determine whether treatments are working. Home monitoring (self-measured blood pressure) is not a substitute for regular visits to your physician. If you have been prescribed medication to lower your blood pressure, don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor, even if your blood pressure readings are in the normal range during home monitoring.
Choosing a home blood pressure monitor
The American Heart Association recommends an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) monitor.
- Wrist and finger monitors are not recommended because they yield less reliable readings.
- Choose a monitor that has been validated. If you are unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice or find options at validatebp.org(link opens in new window).
- When selecting a blood pressure monitor for a senior, pregnant woman or child, make sure it is validated for these conditions.
- Make sure the cuff fits — measure around your upper arm and choose a monitor that comes with the correct size cuff.
Home blood pressure monitoring may be especially useful for:
- Anyone diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension).
- Individuals starting high blood pressure treatment to determine its effectiveness.
- People requiring closer monitoring, especially individuals with risk factors for high blood pressure and/or conditions related to high blood pressure.
- Pregnant women, experiencing pregnancy-induced hypertension and/or preeclampsia.
- Evaluating potentially false readings, like:
- People who only have high readings at the doctor’ s office (“white coat” hypertension).
- People who only have high readings at home but not at the doctor’ s office (“masked” hypertension).
- NOTE: People with atrial fibrillation or other arrhythmias may not be good candidates for home monitoring because electronic home blood pressure devices may not be able to give accurate measurements. Ask your doctor to recommend a monitoring method that works for you.
Left-arm vs. right-arm blood pressure
Several studies have been done to determine what is a normal variation between right and left arm. In general, any difference of 10 mm Hg or less is considered normal and is not a cause for concern.