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The Importance of Knowing Your Blood Pressure

February 4, 2023

Everyone’s blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day. These numbers can vary from minute to minute and from one doctor’s visit to the next. So how do you know what your blood pressure numbers really are – and if you should be concerned? 

Nearly half the adults in the United States have hypertension (high blood pressure), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and most do not know it. There are no warning signs – there are no cures – and, when left untreated, high blood pressure will damage your heart and circulatory system.

“Blood pressure measures the force of blood exerting against your arterial walls when the heart beats,” explains Susan Phung, MD, cardiologist and hypertension specialist with Atlantic Health System. “An ideal blood pressure reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. If your numbers are higher, it means your heart is working harder than it should. Over time, this extra work can damage the heart muscle, leading to enlargement of the heart, heart attack and heart failure.”

Taking Control of High Blood Pressure

You cannot control the biological components that impact high blood pressure such as age, ethnicity, gender, and genetics. But you can control your lifestyle choices.  Excess weight, stress, tobacco use, caffeine, alcohol, obstructive sleep apnea, inactivity and a high-sodium diet all elevate blood pressure. With a few changes, you can improve your numbers.

  • Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. 
  • Limit foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats.
  • Get moving with regular exercise that includes at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week.
  • Monitor your weight, waistline, and body mass index (BMI)
  • Limit alcohol intake with no more than one to two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women. If you smoke, quit.
  • Find coping strategies to manage stress. Yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises help calm the body and mind.
  • Get a good night’s sleep or consider a sleep study to evaluate for sleep disorders or obstructive sleep apnea. 

Understanding Your Numbers

Your cardiologist will encourage you to know and understand your baseline measurements and risk level. If your numbers are high, there are three things you should be doing consistently:

  • Eliminating any risk factors that are within your control
  • Routinely monitoring your own blood pressure
  • Following your doctor’s recommendations for medications and disease management for life.

“Anyone with elevated blood pressure should be testing regularly at home,” says Dr. Phung. “Buy a blood pressure monitor from your pharmacy. Check your blood pressure once daily, varying the time of day. Sit for 10-15 minutes with your feet on the ground and a well fitted arm cuff. This will help you track trends and make important decisions about your health, and your life.”

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