According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects more than 80 million U.S. adults. Though high blood pressure typically has no symptoms, if left untreated it can contribute to heart attacks and stroke, vision problems, dementia and life-altering diseases. Consider the following facts that will help you understand your blood pressure numbers, discover ways to lower them (if necessary), and more.
- Your blood pressure will likely increase as you get older.
Though hypertension is not inevitable, most adults begin to see increases insystolic pressure (the upper number in the reading) after they reach 40 because arteries naturally stiffen with age. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked annually even if yours has always been in the normal range and you feel perfectly healthy.
- High blood pressure symptoms are rare.
As mentioned earlier, hypertension rarely comes with symptoms, even when blood pressure is dangerously high. Regular check-ups may be your only means of catching it before it damages your system. Blood pressure numbers tend to fall at night and surge in the morning, so having yours checked mid-afternoon should yield the most accurate reading.
- Systolic pressure is extremely important after the age of 50.
Systolic pressure measures blood pressure during a heartbeat. Diastolic pressure (the bottom number in the reading) measures blood pressure between heartbeats. The maximum force your arteries and organs experience is equal to your systolic blood pressure, so increases in this number indicate your vital organs and blood vessel linings are at greater risk of damage.
- Healthy blood pressure numbers differ.
‘Normal’ blood pressure, according to widely accepted guidelines, is less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic. These guidelines define prehypertension as 120-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic, and stage one hypertension as 140-159 systolic or 90-99 diastolic. Patients with a systolic reading of 160 or above, or a diastolic reading of 100 or higher, have stage two hypertension. However, guidelines are just guidelines and patients are different. If you have hypertension and need treatment, talk to your doctor about the right targets for you based on factors such as your cardiovascular risk and other medications.
- You can lower your blood pressure with healthy lifestyle changes.
If you’re diagnosed with prehypertension or stage one hypertension, you may be able to lower your blood pressure by cutting back on salt and losing weight rather than by adding a prescription. A recent Swedish study found that regular exercise can reduce systolic pressure by an average of 11 points. Other researchers have found that losing 11 pounds can lower systolic pressure by 4 points or more, and reducing your sodium intake can drop it by 5 points.
- If you take blood pressure medication, you must do so consistently.
Reaching your blood pressure target may not mean you can stop taking your medication. In many cases, if you go off your prescription, your blood pressure will go back up. If you’re suffering from side effects, talk to your doctor about alternate medications. And don’t neglect having regular blood pressure check-ups. Your medications may need to be adjusted periodically.