Out of the 78 million Americans living with high blood pressure, roughly one in two do not have it under control, putting them at risk for serious health conditions as they age.
Cardiologist Dr. Karlyn Huddy answers the top four questions about what blood pressure numbers mean for our health and what we can do to prevent it from posing a threat to our well-being.
We hear a lot about blood pressure numbers – what exactly does blood pressure measure?
Dr. Karlyn Huddy When the heart beats, it creates pressure to move oxygenated blood to other organs through arteries and veins. Specifically, blood pressure measures the force pushing outward on your artery walls.
Blood pressure results from two forces.
The first force occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system. This is your systolic pressure.
The second force is created as the heart rests between heart beats. This is known as diastolic pressure.
These two forces are represented in the numbers of a blood pressure reading.
Why does blood pressure matter to our health?
Dr. Huddy Over time, if the force of the blood flow is often high, the tissue that makes up the walls of arteries gets stretched beyond its healthy limit and is damaged.
This can cause weakness, scarring, blood clots, plaque build-up and tissue and organ damage.
The heart itself can become damaged as a result of having to work harder to get blood into the arteries.
All of this puts individuals with high blood pressure at risk for developing a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat and even kidney failure and vision and memory loss.
Are we learning anything new about managing high blood pressure?
Dr. Huddy Today, we know more about what can make our blood pressure rise on both a short and long-term basis.
Stress, caffeine and alcohol intake, lack of exercise, excess weight and some supplements all make our heart work harder and contribute to high blood pressure.
The good news is that we are also learning more about how we can lower blood pressure and reduce our risk of heart disease through a healthy lifestyle and limiting some of the other contributing factors.
For example, a recent study found that exercise, watching what you eat or a combination of the two were equally effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease as long as you maintained a healthy weight.
While we always start with healthy lifestyle recommendations, anti-hypertension medicines can help individuals who continue to struggle with high blood pressure reach their target numbers. We know a lot more today about how we can tailor the medication—or a combination of therapies—to the individual.
How else can we be proactive and stay on top of our blood pressure?
Dr. Huddy High blood pressure is often referred to as the silent killer because it is symptomless. By knowing your blood pressure numbers and having it checked regularly, you can act on any changes that might affect your health as soon as possible.
A “healthy” blood pressure number is different for each person, so make sure to discuss any questions you have about your blood pressure with your doctor.
f you are diagnosed with hypertension, work with your doctor to manage it effectively.
Your primary care doctor will work with you to track your progress and let you know when you might need to see a cardiologist.
Unfortunately, we are seeing high blood pressure diagnosed at a younger age because of the obesity epidemic and our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
While you’re never too old to embrace lifestyle changes that lower your blood pressure, the earlier you start the better.
Dr. Karlyn Huddy offers tips for managing high blood pressure on KING-5's New Day Northwest.