Do you know your numbers?
New guidelines mean that, while your blood pressure may have been considered “normal” just a few weeks ago, it’s now high. Anyone with a blood pressure over 130/80 is considered to have hypertension, or high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. Previously, the threshold was 140/90.
A blood pressure of 120/80 is considered normal.
“This change in guidelines means that many more adults will have high blood pressure,” said James Blankenship, MD, director of Geisinger’s Cardiology and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories. “It’s a good reminder to understand what high blood pressure is and how you can keep it in a normal range because it can lead to some very serious health issues.”
What is high blood pressure?
As blood travels through your body, it pushes against the walls of your arteries and blood vessels, which are normally elastic and strong. The force at which it pushes against these walls is called blood pressure. When your blood pressure is high, your arteries become less elastic and can narrow, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through them. Eventually, high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, heart disease, stroke, vision loss, kidney failure and sexual dysfunction.
“What’s scary about hypertension is that many people go years without knowing they have it. It truly is a silent killer,” said Dr. Blankenship. “That’s why it’s important to get an annual checkup and have your blood pressure checked.”
What to do if you have high blood pressure
Knowing your blood pressure is the first step in staying healthy. If you have your blood pressure checked during a visit with your doctor or even a work health fair and find it’s higher than 120/80, talk to your doctor about ways to lower it.
Most often, the first step in lowering your blood pressure is to make lifestyle changes.
“We typically recommend that patients with hypertension first try to make some diet changes, get more exercise, lower their stress and stop smoking,” said Dr. Blankenship.
The recommended diet to help prevent or lower high blood pressure is called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Eating a DASH diet includes lots of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy, some fish, poultry and nuts, and fats, sweets, red meat and alcohol in small portions. It also emphasizes lowering sodium in your diet to 2,300 mg per day or less.
Exercising often can help you lower high blood pressure. Try a brisk walk, short run, swim or bike for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Moving more will also help you feel good and can help you manage your weight.
Lowering your stress level from day to day will also help you lower your blood pressure. Build time into your day to relax by reading a book or going on a walk, and try to manage expectations so you’ve got a good work-life balance. You may also want to try meditating to help you center yourself and be calm each day.
In some cases, eating a healthier diet, quitting smoking, exercising and relieving stress won’t lower your blood pressure back to a normal range. In that case, your doctor may recommend medication to help you control it.
“Sometimes, a combination of lifestyle changes and one or more medications can help you lower your blood pressure and maintain a normal range,” said Dr. Blankenship.
Dr. James Blankenship is director of Cardiology and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratories at Geisinger. To schedule an appointment with a cardiologist, please call 800-275-6401.