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Blood Pressure - Knowing Your Numbers and How to Control Them

blood pressure cuff

Blood pressure. It's the measurement taken with that cuff squeezing your arm at a yearly physical exam. And it can be taken by that machine you see at the local drugstore while you're waiting for your prescriptions.

But, did you know that nearly HALF of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure? That's over 100 million people! And many don't even know they have it, which is why it is often called the "silent killer." High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause serious health problems without showing any symptoms. Left uncontrolled, it can significantly increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Knowing your blood pressure baseline and having it checked regularly is important.

What exactly is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the measure of the force exerted against the walls of the arteries as blood flows through. It's made up of two numbers:

Systolic (top number) - pressure in the arteries during heartbeats

Diastolic (bottom number) - pressure in the arteries between heartbeats

With this information your physician can make decisions on how to proceed with keeping your blood pressure numbers at the recommended levels. Often times lifestyle changes such as diet modification, sodium reduction and exercise are advised, but medication is also a treatment option.

The American Heart Association, in collaboration with the American College of Cardiology, recently came out with new guidelines that suggest high blood pressure should now be treated at 130/80, as opposed to the past recommendation of 140/90. This leads to a significant jump in the number of Americans who are considered to have “high blood pressure”.

Blood pressure numbers what do they mean

"Although the new guidelines suggest a change in the definition of what blood pressure level qualifies as hypertension, this will not have a significant effect on the number of patients that require medication for high blood pressure. Patients with systolic blood pressures in the 130s who are now be called hypertensive will typically be counselled regarding lifestyle modifications, rather than treated with medications," says cardiologist Dr. Robert Norris.

The bottom line is that open communication with your physician about your blood pressure is very important.

So, next time you're at the doctor's office, talk about it. Ask and understand what your numbers are. Are they normal? If you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, work with your physician to come up with an individualized plan to control your blood pressure. And the next time you pass by a screening at the drugstore or local 5k event, have your blood pressure checked. It takes under five minutes and provides information that can save your life.

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.


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