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Know Your Numbers: High Blood Pressure Risks

Today's Medicine

Taking your blood pressure seems like one of those routine things that just happens when you visit your doctor. But there’s a good reason we take it seriously … and why you should, too.

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure – also called hypertension – is when the pressure in your arteries is too high. 

Think of it like the air in your car’s tire. Too much, and your tire could pop! While there’s an extremely low risk of anything “popping” in your system, having an elevated pressure can wreak havoc in your system in many other ways.

The consequences of high blood pressure on health

So what are the ways having high blood pressure can hurt your health? Long-term high blood pressure puts you at risk for:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney disease/failure
  • Sexual dysfunction

Controlling your blood pressure now can help minimize your risk for these greater health problems.

Knowing your blood pressure 

It all starts by knowing your blood pressure numbers. You don’t need to be at a doctor’s office to monitor it – many grocery stores and pharmacies now have blood pressure machines and you can even buy them for home use. You should take your blood pressure regularly to know your baseline.

Blood pressure goals

While everyone’s blood pressure goals are different based on their individual health, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently issued new blood pressure guidelines. Their research found that for every 20 mmHg increase in the systolic blood pressure and for every 10 mmHg increase in the diastolic blood pressure, the risk of having a stroke, heart disease or vascular disease doubled.

So what are their new guidelines for “normal” blood pressure?

Signs and symptoms

High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer.” That’s because most people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it. Most experience no symptoms at all, but those with extremely high blood pressure may experience:

  • Headache 
  • Vision changes 
  • Dizziness 
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds

These symptoms may not directly be from your blood pressure being too high, but from other serious conditions high blood pressure causes, such as stroke or heart attack. If your pressure is extremely high and you experience these symptoms, wait five minutes and retest. If your reading remains at 180/120 mm Hg or higher, call 9-1-1.

Controlling your blood pressure

Keeping your blood pressure under control starts with a conversation with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider, and a focus on good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. In my office, I first talk with patients about their risk factors. While some risk factors you cannot prevent, such as family history, age, gender, race or chronic kidney disease, some risk factors are manageable. 

  • Not enough physical activity
  • A diet too high in salt, calories, saturated and trans fat and sugar
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Heavy alcohol consumption 
  • Sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking 
  • Too much stress

If you carry one or more of these risk factors, now is the time to talk with your doctor. At Methodist Physicians Clinic, you can find help through our Patient-Centered Medical Home. Through Medical Home, our Health Coaches work with you to take a more active role in your wellness and set you up for success.

If you need help managing your blood pressure, talk with your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care provider today.

Thomas McElderry

About the Author:

The thing Dr. Thomas McElderry enjoys the most about being a family medicine provider is the relationships he builds every day with his patients. He says working side-by-side with patients to help them with both acute illness and managing their health is what makes it so fulfilling.

Patients can visit Dr. McElderry at Methodist Physicians Clinic Council Bluffs.

See More Articles by Thomas McElderry