Taking care of your blood pressure
Physical health

Blood Pressure: Understanding the Basics and How to Manage It

Our blood pressure is an essential indicator of our cardiovascular health. Knowing what blood pressure is and keeping track of it can be vital in preventing serious health issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and kidney diseases. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a silent killer that often goes unnoticed until it becomes a life-threatening issue. Regularly checking your blood pressure is a simple yet highly effective way to monitor your overall health and keep hypertension at bay. Taking care of your blood pressure is taking care of your heart, and ultimately, your body. 

Understanding Blood Pressure

Arterial blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries. It is the force exerted by blood against the walls of the arteries. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers: the systolic pressure, which represents the pressure when the heart beats (when the heart contracts) and pumps blood, and the diastolic pressure, which reflects the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. Monitoring blood pressure is crucial for assessing cardiovascular health and identifying potential risks or conditions. 

High Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, or hypertension, it means that your blood is putting too much pressure on your arteries. This can lead to serious health problems. High blood pressure is often called the "silent killer" because it usually has no symptoms, but it can cause damage to your heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes.

A blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg* or higher is considered high. If your blood pressure is consistently elevated, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication to lower it.

If your blood pressure is extremely high, you may experience a hypertensive crisis, which can be a medical emergency. Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include severe headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness or weakness, change in vision, and difficulty speaking.

Measuring Blood Pressure

Measuring blood pressure is a simple and painless procedure that can be done by a doctor or with a digital blood pressure monitor. It is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly to help diagnose any health problems early.

When you visit a doctor, they will use a device called a sphygmomanometer to measure your blood pressure. This device has an inflatable cuff that is wrapped around your upper arm and a pressure gauge that measures the pressure in your arteries. The doctor will inflate the cuff and then slowly release the pressure while listening to your pulse with a stethoscope.

A digital blood pressure monitor is a device that can be used at home to check your blood pressure. It works in the same way as a sphygmomanometer, but it is automated and does not require a stethoscope. To use a digital blood pressure monitor, you simply wrap the cuff around your upper arm and press a button to start the measurement.

elevated blood pressure

Effects of Hypertension on the Heart

Hypertension can have serious effects on your heart. It can cause damage to your heart muscle, which can lead to heart disease and other complications.

One of the most serious effects of high blood pressure on the heart is the increased risk of heart attack. When your blood pressure is high, it can cause your arteries to narrow and become blocked, which can prevent blood from flowing to your heart. This can cause a heart attack, which can be life-threatening.

Hypertension can also cause your heart muscle to become thicker and less flexible. This can make it harder for your heart to pump blood, which can lead to heart failure. In addition, high blood pressure can cause your heart to contract irregularly, which can lead to arrhythmias.

If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your healthcare provider may recommend medication. There are several types of blood pressure medications available, and your healthcare provider may prescribe one or a combination of them based on your individual needs and health status.

Lifestyle Changes

If you have high blood pressure, making lifestyle changes can help you lower it and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products can help lower your blood pressure. You should also limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars. The DASH diet is a popular eating plan that can help you lower your blood pressure.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Losing weight has been shown to have a positive impact on lowering blood pressure. Even shedding a small amount of weight can have a significant effect on your overall health and well-being. By reducing excess body fat, you can potentially reduce the strain on your cardiovascular system, leading to improved blood pressure levels.

doctor measuring blood pressure

Be Physically Active

Engaging in regular physical activity has numerous benefits, including the potential to lower your blood pressure. To reap these rewards, it is recommended to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week. Examples of such activities include brisk walking, cycling, or swimming.

Limit Alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to elevated blood pressure levels, potentially increasing the risk of various health issues. Therefore, it is advisable to consume alcohol in moderation. For women, this means limiting intake to up to one drink per day, while men should aim for no more than two drinks per day.

Quit Smoking

Smoking can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you smoke, quitting can help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health.

Manage Stress

Stress can raise your blood pressure. Finding ways to manage stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga, can help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health.

By making these lifestyle changes, you can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to make these changes and monitor your blood pressure.

Blood pressure chart

American Heart Association Guidelines

If you are concerned about your blood pressure, the American Heart Association (AHA) provides guidelines to help you monitor, treat, and prevent high blood pressure. The AHA recommends that adults get their blood pressure checked at least once every two years, and more often if they have high blood pressure or other risk factors for heart disease.

The AHA guidelines define high blood pressure as a systolic pressure of 130 mm Hg or higher or a diastolic pressure of 80 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is in this range, your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes such as losing weight, exercising regularly, reducing sodium intake, and quitting smoking. In some cases, medication may also be prescribed to lower your blood pressure.

Visual aids can be a powerful tool for understanding blood pressure readings and tracking your progress over time. Here you will find a blood pressure log that you can use to record your readings and share with your healthcare provider. It is important to regularly monitor your blood pressure and make necessary changes to keep it within a healthy range.

*Source WHO

**Source stock photos: Canva