Manage blood pressure for good health and longevity
Maintaining healthy blood pressure is one of the most important aspects of health. High blood pressure can often be prevented, but it remains one of the most common — and most concerning — health issues among adults, and can occur in younger people as well.
One in three American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and the incidence is rising. It can significantly increase the risk for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and other serious health issues in both women and men.
“With high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder and may become enlarged in a process known as hypertrophy, given it has to pump against a greater amount of pressure,” said Chris Yiannias, DO, an internal medicine physician with ProHealth Medical Group.
Over time, the excess work needed for the heart to function properly creates undue stress on the cardiovascular system and body.
The only way to know whether you have hypertension is to take regular blood pressure readings, monitor the results and talk to your provider about your blood pressure.
“People who have high blood pressure are not always symptomatic. They can feel fine,” Dr. Yiannias said. “It can be very dangerous — a silent killer. That’s why it’s so important to have your blood pressure evaluated on a regular basis and make sure hypertension does not go unnoticed.”
Blood pressure is measured as systolic over diastolic blood pressure, such as 120/80 mm Hg. The first number indicates the pressure that blood exerts against artery walls as the heart beats. The second number indicates the pressure that blood exerts against artery walls when the heart is at rest between beats.
According to the American Heart Association, the risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people ages 40 to 89.
“Lowering blood pressure is pivotal to long-term health and longevity,” Dr. Yiannias said. “It can have a tremendous preventive effect on reducing mortality and morbidity.”
Blood pressure is the result of two core components — lifestyle and genetic factors.
“If someone is not taking care of themselves, they have an increased risk for high blood pressure,” Dr. Yiannias said. “Even if there is a family history of blood pressure, it’s never too early or too late to adopt an active and healthy lifestyle.”
Hypertension can be controlled by increasing exercise and practicing healthy eating habits that focus on a low-salt, plant-based diet. It is best to eat plenty of whole, natural fruits and vegetables every day.
Obstructive sleep apnea can also play a role in high blood pressure. Guidelines developed by the American College and Cardiology and American Heart Association identify sleep apnea as a significant cardiovascular disease risk factor in patients with hypertension.
Your health care provider can help you understand your blood pressure readings and how lifestyle and health factors can affect blood pressure. Be sure to talk with your care team if your blood pressure consistently exceeds your recommended range.
You may be asked about your medical history, and about symptoms such as difficulty with exertion. Your doctor may want to consider basic metabolic blood tests or an electrocardiogram (EKG) to get a baseline reading of the heart. An EKG is a fast, simple and painless test performed in the office.
After seeing your provider, follow any instructions you are given and get regular checkups. The good news about blood pressure is that it has been widely studied and can be managed.
“There are so many positive aspects to what we know about preventing high blood pressure and disease,” Dr. Yiannias said. “When you do the right things, there is significant potential for a positive impact.”