Getting to Know Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can have devastating effects on your health which is why health professionals often call it the “silent danger.” Managing your blood pressure is an important way to take control and reduce the risk of serious heart problems now and in the future.

You may not know that untreated high blood pressure is a critical risk factor in serious cardiovascular problems and other complications like:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Heart failure
  • Loss of vision
  • Artery disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mental decline and/or dementia.

Over one third of North Dakotans have high blood pressure and rates are increasing year after year. That’s why you should know more about this potentially serious health problem.

What is High Blood Pressure?

While “high” or “low” blood pressure varies somewhat from person to person, your target blood pressure is about 120/80. Blood pressure is the result of the heart pumping blood through the body. Blood pressure above 120/80 makes your heart work harder, and all that extra force eventually can damage your arteries.

If additional factors like high cholesterol are present the pathways through which blood travels are narrowed, making everything work even harder. It becomes a cycle that takes a serious toll!

Why Should I Get My Blood Pressure Checked?

Roughly 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. aren’t aware they have high blood pressure, according to the CDC. Often high blood pressure has no symptoms, so it’s important to have regular checkups and/or learn to check our blood pressure at home.

Risks to your heart health increase with age, so it’s especially important for adults 55 and older to pay attention to their blood pressure. But high blood pressure doesn’t discriminate – it’s also possible for children and teenagers to have high (or low) blood pressure.

How Can I Check My Blood Pressure?

The first step is to talk with your doctor about your target blood pressure at your regular health exam. Not sure what to ask? The CDC has a great checklist of questions you might want to ask your doctor about blood pressure here.

If you want to monitor your pressure at home, you can try cuffs that can be purchased at most pharmacies, or certain smart watches that track heart health. While you’re watching your numbers, print this handy log to keep track. Remember, it’s important to use these tools correctly and never skip your annual blood pressure check with your doctor.

Cleveland Clinic Heart Advisor: Take Your Blood Pressure at Home

How Can I Lower My Blood Pressure?

Your doctor can help you create a regimen based on your individual health that will likely include some lifestyle changes, and possibly medication, to help lower your blood pressure.

There is also general advice you can follow for maintaining a healthy blood pressure:

  • Shed excess weight. Talk to your doctor about how many pounds you should lose.
  • Exercise regularly, for most people that means about 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity each day.
  • Consume less salt (sodium) by checking the nutrition labels on your food. Most adults should have less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
  • If you use tobacco, quit. Visit NDQuits for resources and services on ways to quit tobacco.
  • Limit your caffeine intake to at most 400 mg a day, about 4 cups.
  • Eat a diet full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy.
  • Avoid saturated fats and cholesterol in your meals.
  • Reduce your stress, as an agitated or anxious mental state can raise your blood pressure. Exercise, meditation and other fun activities can help you experience less stress! For support and resources, visit Help is Here.

Maintaining healthy blood pressure takes conscious work on lifestyle changes, but it’s worth it to reduce your chances of life-threatening or even fatal stroke or heart attack.

With regular checkups and monitoring, following doctor’s orders, taking any prescribed medications as directed and maintaining lifestyle adjustments, we can all prevent the risks high blood pressure creates.

No more silent danger – get to know your blood pressure and make friends with your heart.