Blood Pressure and Your Health

Health & Wellness

March 29, 2018

COMMENTARY by

Ryan Alexander, DO – IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Epler Parke

Blood pressure is one of the most important indicators of health. While our blood pressure fluctuates moment to moment based on factors such as physical activity, diet and stress, sustained high blood pressure can cause significant health problems, including heart failure, stroke and kidney damage. Here are some important things to know about blood pressure and what you can do to keep yours in check.

How it’s measured and what’s normal – Blood pressure measurement consists of two numbers; the top number indicates the systolic pressure in the arteries as the heart muscle contracts. The bottom number—diastolic pressure—measures the pressure between heartbeats. Blood pressure is considered normal if it’s below 120/80.

Who’s at risk? – People with a family history of high blood pressure are twice as likely to develop it. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure at a younger age. Other risk factors include age (Blood pressure naturally increases as we grow older.), obesity, sedentary lifestyle and eating a high-sodium diet. Taking certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, decongestants and birth control pills can increase blood pressure in some people. Kidney disease is another secondary risk factor that can cause high blood pressure.

Steps you should take – Because elevated blood pressure rarely causes symptoms until it’s critically high, it’s important for adults to have their blood pressure checked regularly by their primary care provider. Healthy adults should be screened annually. Those with significant risk factors or people already diagnosed with high blood pressure should have their blood pressure checked at least twice a year. If you are at increased risk of developing high blood pressure, talk with your doctor about your diet and lifestyle to determine if there are ways to minimize risk.

Regular monitoring is key – Blood pressure screening is one of the many reasons why scheduling annual exams with a primary care doctor is so important—even if you’re feeling well. Even small changes in your blood pressure can affect your risk of developing high blood pressure over your lifetime. And while checking your blood pressure at home or at a pharmacy can be helpful, commercially purchased blood pressure cuffs and machines at retail locations may not be properly calibrated. Discuss at-home monitoring with your physician and be sure to continue having your pressure checked regularly by a healthcare professional. Your doctor is the best resource to help determine when and if your blood pressure needs to be treated either by lifestyle modifications or medication.

Ryan Alexander, DO, specializes in family medicine. He is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Primary Care – Epler Parke and can be reached by calling the office at 317.780.4080.

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