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Understand Your Blood Pressure Numbers

December 11, 2018

By Jim Blaine, MD, Medical Director, DMP Family Clinic

Hypertension is abnormally elevated blood pressure. You may not feel that anything is wrong, but if you have high blood pressure, it could be quietly causing damage that can threaten your health. The best prevention is knowing your numbers and making changes that matter in order to prevent and manage high blood pressure, and the diseases it may cause.

Normal blood pressure is around 120/80
The top number is called Systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts (beats). The bottom number is called Diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart relaxes between beats. Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure over 130.

Why should I worry about hypertension?
High blood pressure (hypertension) increases the workload of the heart and blood vessels, and this makes them work harder and less efficiently. Over time, the force and friction of high blood pressure damages the delicate tissues inside the arteries. Hypertension usually doesn't have symptoms and, left untreated for years, can result in a buildup of plaque in your arteries, and this can cause a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or stroke.

Who's at Risk of High Blood Pressure?
Most hypertension is idiopathic, which means no known cause. This is called essential hypertension. However, hypertension does tend to run in families and can be aggravated by smoking, being overweight, excess salt intake, excess alcohol intake, advancing age, race (African Americans have a higher incidence), and physical inactivity.

How to Treat Hypertension
Once hypertension is accurately diagnosed, it is treated with diet, exercise, avoiding salt, and then, if this is not fully effective, medication. I always recommend my patients have their blood pressure checked at least twice per year.

If your blood pressure is elevated, we recommend Home Blood Pressure Monitoring (HBPM). HBPM involves checking your blood pressure twice daily for a week at home just to confirm the diagnosis before any attempt at treatment. If you do not have a blood pressure machine, we will loan you one to check your HBPM and show you how to use it properly. It is worthwhile to note that a third of patients have elevated blood pressure just by being in a doctor's office — we call this "White Coat Hypertension," and this is not anything that needs treatment. This is one reason that it is important to monitor your blood pressure at home to accurately diagnose true hypertension.

Do You Know Your Numbers?
The DMP Family Clinic is a full-service family practice for DMP employees, their spouses, and children under the age of 18. The clinic provides annual preventive history and physicals as a benefit to all DMP employees and their family members at no cost. This is an excellent time to check your blood pressure, but you can also drop in to just check your blood pressure at any time the clinic is open. If we can be of service, please don't hesitate to call the clinic office at DMP (417-447-9605).