Patient Education

High Blood Pressure: These Numbers Matter Most

Knowing your blood pressure numbers is key to a longer, healthier life

High blood pressure affects one in three Americans, yet many people with the condition don’t know they have it.

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggest that more than 100 million people in the United States now have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is often called “the silent killer,” due to the fact that most people don’t feel symptoms or notice warning signs.

“A high blood pressure number is one of the most important factors of development of cardiovascular disease,” stated Dr. Lance Sullenberger, Medical Director of the Cardiac Imaging at Capital Cardiology Associates. High blood pressure can cause many serious conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure, and the loss of vision, among several others.

Blood pressure is measured with two numbers written like a fraction. The top number is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is pushing out blood. The bottom number is the pressure between beats, when your heart is resting. The higher the pressure, the greater your risk for health problems.

“We worry about heart attacks and heart failure but there are many other important organs,” Dr. Sullenberger said. “The brain and bleeding into the brain which is a form of stroke. We worry about bleeding into the eye that causes blindness or damage in the kidneys.”

In 2017, the American Heart Association with the American College of Cardiology redefined high blood pressure for the first time in 14 years. The five blood pressure ranges as recognized by the American Heart Association are Normal (less than 120/80), Elevated (120-129/80), Hypertension Stage 1 (130-139/80-89), Hypertension Stage 2 (140/90 or higher), and Hypertensive crisis (above 180/120). As a result of these changes, half of the adult population — around 103 million people (46% of US adults) will have high blood pressure or hypertension. Most impacted are men and women under the age of 45 who will be consulted by their doctor on healthy lifestyle changes.

The goal of the new numbers was to encourage Americans to take a greater interest in monitoring their blood pressure. “What I find most frustrating about blood pressure is that it is not something that can be felt and does have the sway of cholesterol levels,” points out Dr. Sullenberger. “People tend to be really proud of their cholesterol level, even if they are not medically savvy. Meanwhile, blood pressure is ignored. It is not something that you can tell if you have it. I’ll see a patient with high blood pressure in the office, say a reading of 150 over 90. I’ll ask if they have a history of high blood pressure. They tend to make an excuse by saying, ‘I couldn’t find a parking spot, I had a cup of coffee…’ Maybe you are walking around with high blood pressure everyday?”

A lack of physical activity, smoking, an unhealthful diet, excessive alcohol intake, stress, and being overweight are some factors that heighten risk but that can be changed or modified. There are also genetic risk factors for high blood pressure.

The Good News about
High Blood Pressure

The average person with hypertension is on two to three medications to treat it. While taking a prescription is more agreeable for some patients, nearly everyone with high blood pressure can make a few lifestyle changes to improve their numbers.

A new study presented in September at the American Heart Association’s Joint Hypertension 2018 Scientific Sessions, showed that in four months with the proper lifestyle changes, patients were able to stop taking blood pressure medications. Those that followed the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan which limits red meat, sodium, and sweets, “lost an average 19 pounds and had reduced blood pressure by an average 16 mmHg systolic and 10 mmHg diastolic at the close of the 16 weeks.”

“Simple steps with very attainable goals,” shared Dr. Sullenberger. “It is possible to lower your blood pressure over time. Losing ten pounds can make a difference. You don’t have to join a gym or hire a personal trainer. Start with a personal goal of 10 minutes a day of activity or exercise like walking up and down the stairs at home. Over time you can add another 10 minutes every day until you can reach a total of 30 minutes a day. I have patients who have found creative ways to become more active which has helped them get off their high blood pressure medications.”

Written by: Michael Arce, Media Specialist
Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.