Do I have normal or high blood pressure?

Most of us are familiar with the term high blood pressure, but not everyone knows their blood pressure levels. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension or HBP, can be a serious condition if left uncontrolled.

The death rate from high blood pressure increased nearly 11% in the United States between 2005 and 2015. This means many more of us are at risk for heart attacks, strokes and other related health problems.

The American Heart Association estimates nearly half of all adults in our country, about 103 million, have high blood pressure. It’s anticipated that these numbers will continue to rise due to our aging population and an overall increased life expectancy.

New guidelines for what is considered hypertension

Guidelines now indicate that a patient has high blood pressure if it’s at 130/80 or higher. For many years the standard of having high blood pressure was 140/90. But that is not the case anymore, according to the American Heart Association.

You have normal blood pressure if your first number (systolic) is less than 120 and your second number (diastolic) is less than 80.

What does systolic and diastolic mean?

The systolic pressure is a measure of the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. It’s created as the heart beats and pumps blood from the heart into the blood vessels. Diastolic pressure is the level of pressure within the arteries, when the heart is relaxed. In some people, the arteries may cause a resistance against the flow of blood. When this happens, your heart has to work extra hard to properly circulate blood throughout your body.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

You’re at risk if you have diabetes, gout, kidney disease, depression or have a family history of high blood pressure; are middle-aged or older, pregnant or overweight; eat a lot of salted foods or drink a lot of alcohol; smoke (including e-cigarettes), or take birth control pills or stimulant drugs.

Symptoms of high blood pressure

“Symptoms may sometimes present as headaches, palpitations, shortness of breath or nosebleeds – but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage,” says Dr. Suhaib Haq, a family medicine doctor with University Health System in San Antonio.

He explained the concerning issue is that, “Most people remain asymptomatic, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.” Because many people don’t display obvious symptoms, high blood pressure is often called the silent killer.

Harmful effects of high blood pressure

The longer high blood pressure goes untreated, the greater the chance you may experience a health event such as a heart attack, heart disease, kidney disease, a stroke or vision loss.

It can affect your sex life as well. Blood vessel damage from high blood pressure can affect blood flow to the pelvic area of both men and women.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, long-term studies demonstrate that high blood pressure in mid-life is a major factor that can lead to an increased risk for developing dementia later in life, especially vascular dementia.

What changes can I make to lower my blood pressure?

Dr. Haq says certain lifestyle changes can help reduce your chances of having a major heart attack, stroke or other health-related complications.

He advises patients to start these healthy habits:

Take medications consistently

When lifestyle changes alone don’t lower your blood pressure levels, you may need to take medication. If your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication, it’s important that you take the whole dosage every day. Don’t skip dosages or cut pills in half to save money.

The American Heart Association recommends that you ‘Know your Numbers’ and don’t self-diagnose. Go see a doctor and get your blood pressure checked.

Here are a few helpful links from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Million Hearts® 2022 – Prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes within 5 years
A national initiative with a mission of prevention by the CDC
The WISEWOMAN program
This program provides low-income, under-insured or uninsured women referral services to prevent heart disease and stroke.