Why Your Blood Pressure Matters
The Heart of the Matter: Blood Pressure The Highs and Lows
Blood pressure is the force exerted on our blood vessels by the circulating blood flow. When you’re at risk for high blood pressure–or hypertension—your numbers skew higher than 140/90 when you’re at rest.
What does that mean? It means you’re at a higher risk for heart and health problems. Hypertension is a leading cause of stroke, and contributes to heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney failure. And, if you have atrial fibrillation or AFib, having high blood pressure puts you at an increased risk for bleeding and stroke.
While the diagnosis sounds bleak, Beebe cardiologist R. Alberto Rosa, MD, of Cardiovascular Consultants of Southern Delaware, tells us it’s one of the most preventable contributors to heart disease. Learn how to manage blood pressure and what options you have if hypertension symptoms worsen.
What Does Your Blood Pressure Mean?
Use this chart from the American Heart Association to understand what your blood pressure numbers mean.
Ways to Manage Blood Pressure Without Medication
Similar to diabetes control and not smoking, high blood pressure can often be tackled from basic lifestyle changes.
“If you can modify these four lifestyle issues, it’s been proven to have a direct impact on improving blood pressure.”
Maintain a Healthy Weight
The more you weigh, the greater your chances of suffering from hypertension. Also, as you gain or lose weight, work with your doctor to reevaluate your medication plan. As you lose weight, your medications may cause blood pressure to be too low, increasing risk for falls.
Manage Your Salt Intake
For healthy blood pressure, experts recommend no more than 1 teaspoon of salt consumed per day. Less, if possible.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
There's a direct correlation between alcohol consumption and high blood pressure. Dr. Rosa recommends no more than two 4 oz. glasses of wine per day for men, and no more than one glass for women, due to the way women’s bodies metabolize and tolerate alcohol.
Avoid a Sedentary Lifestyle
Spending the day sitting can be detrimental to your health. Adopting an exercise routine you can stick to is crucial.
For those who try to alter their lifestyle and still struggle with hypertension, genetics may be to blame. While there is no specific gene determined to be the cause of high blood pressure, Dr. Rosa explains that people who modify their lifestyle and still deliver high numbers typically have a family history.
How to Monitor Blood Pressure at Home
Dr. Rosa encourages those with a family history to learn how to check blood pressure on their own in between annual wellness visits. He coaches patients on when and how to take it for accurate readings.
- Take at the same time every day. Mid-morning is preferable, after you’ve had 5-10 minutes of rest.
- Sit at the kitchen table with your arm at heart height.
- Maintain good posture. Sit up straight with your feet on the floor.
- Take two to three readings, about a minute apart, every time you check your blood pressure.
Don’t overlook low BP. While high blood pressure is top-of-mind for most of us, low blood pressure (hypotension) is often overlooked. Hypotension is common as people age and has been linked to many causes, including medications, fatigue, and even dehydration. If your blood pressure dips below 90/60, contact your doctor right away.
This method of self-screening is encouraged because most people aren’t aware they have high blood pressure until they visit their doctor or present with symptoms. “By the time you experience symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue, it may be too late to make a change,” Dr. Rosa says.
How to Treat Related Conditions of Hypertension
For those whose symptoms have progressed, an evaluation and eventual consultation with a cardiac surgeon may be necessary. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause long-term damage to the heart, kidneys, and brain, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and coronary artery disease. Such conditions require treatment beyond lifestyle changes or medications.
There are three basic forms of therapy for a patient diagnosed with coronary artery disease (CAD):
- Lifestyle modification and drug therapy
- Placement of stents by an interventional cardiologist
- For patients who have multiple blockages that are heavily calcified, coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) might be the answer.
In addition to coronary artery disease, patients may suffer from valvular heart disease, or damage of the heart valve(s).
The valves in your heart are like doors in your home that separate rooms. In your heart there are four valves separating the four chambers. If they are not working properly, they may need to be repaired or replaced. This can be done through open-heart surgery or minimally invasive procedures.
Beebe Healthcare offers many surgical and non-surgical options for treating heart disease. Some patients with aortic stenosis, a condition characterized by a narrowing of the heart valve, may be candidates for transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR). This is a minimally invasive procedure in which the artificial valve is implanted with a catheter.