May is National Blood Pressure Month.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects one-third of Americans, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a major contributor to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the U.S. and worldwide.
This month-long recognition was established to raise awareness about the complications of high blood pressure, and to encourage Americans to track their numbers. Being aware of your resting blood pressure is the first step toward preventing heart disease, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke, and other adverse health outcomes, and making necessary lifestyle changes.
High Blood Pressure: The Silent Killer
High blood pressure is commonly referred to as “the silent killer,” and that’s because it can easily go unnoticed. If an individual doesn’t frequent their physician regularly or have a blood pressure device at home, it’s possible to have hypertension for years with few or no symptoms.
Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through the arteries. The arteries allow blood to flow from the heart to other parts of the body. When blood is circulated, it pushes against the artery walls, otherwise known as blood pressure. If the pressure is elevated, it’s recognized as hypertension.
Blood pressure can change throughout the day depending on activity levels. Blood pressure will be lower while sitting, sleeping, or resting and higher during physical activity. However, if blood pressure is normally elevated, it poses a risk to health and wellbeing.
Understanding Blood Pressure Numbers
Blood pressure consists of two readings: one for systolic pressure and another for diastolic pressure.
When you have your blood pressure taken, systolic blood pressure is the top number. Greater emphasis is typically placed on systolic blood pressure, or the amount of pressure that your blood is putting against the artery walls when your heart beats. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), normal systolic blood pressure is less than 120.
Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number and refers to the pressure being exerted against the artery walls between heartbeats. According to the AHA, normal diastolic blood pressure is less than 80.
Contributing Factors and Resulting Health Complications
High blood pressure can be caused by any number of issues. Some of the major contributors are:
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical activity
- Drinking too much alcohol
- A diet that’s high in salt
- Older age
There are also certain conditions that can contribute to having high blood pressure, such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, adrenal and thyroid disorders, and sleep apnea.
The effects of having high blood pressure may take years and even decades to cause lasting damage. However, there can be serious complications, according to Heart.org, which include:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease or kidney failure
- Vision loss
- Sexual dysfunction
- Peripheral artery disease
Awareness Is Key
When it comes to health, knowledge is power. Knowing what your blood pressure is, no matter the numbers, puts you in a position to empower yourself by making positive changes. The earlier you can detect possible hypertension, the faster you can also put measurements in place to improve your numbers. National Blood Pressure Month is an opportunity to be proactive about your health by tracking your blood pressure and practicing healthy habits.
To learn more about blood pressure, check out the resources available from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm.
Article written by Danielle Renda.