If you feel like you’re doing OK with a borderline high blood pressure of 130/80 or so, it’s time to pay close attention. The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology have jointly published stricter high blood pressure guidelines. What was once was considered “prehypertension” has been officially upgraded to Stage 1 high blood pressure.

May is Blood Pressure Awareness Month, and Tennova Healthcare is using the occasion to help the community better understand the new guidelines. The health system is also sharing five tips for keeping your blood pressure in check.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is an all-too-common condition. According to recent estimates, an alarming 76.4 million Americans over the age of 20—one in every three adults—have high blood pressure. Perhaps more concerning is that only about half of those living with the disease have it under control.

Blood pressure measures the rate at which blood pushes against your blood vessel walls,” said Syed M. Ahmed, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Tennova Primary Care – Broadway. “Hypertension is a condition in which blood flows through the blood vessels at higher than normal pressures. Untreated, high blood pressure can eventually lead to greater health issues, such as a heart attack or stroke.”

According to Dr. Ahmed, no one knows exactly what causes most cases of high blood pressure. It can’t be cured, but it can be managed. High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms until the disease reaches its most advanced stages. That’s why blood pressure screening should be part of every adult’s annual health exam.

Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The first is called systolic pressure. It measures (in mmHG or millimeters of mercury) the force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats. The second number is called diastolic pressure. It reflects the force of the blood against the artery walls between heart beats. For example, a reading of 120/80 mmHG means systolic pressure is 120 and diastolic pressure is 80.

Blood pressure categories in the new guideline are:

  • Normal blood pressure: less than 120 mmHg systolic; less than 80 mmHg diastolic
  • Elevated blood pressure: 120 to 129 mmHg systolic; less than 80 mmHg diastolic
  • Stage 1 high blood pressure: 130 to 139 mmHg systolic; 80 to 89 mmHg diastolic
  • Stage 2 high blood pressure: 140 mmHg or above systolic; 90 mmHg or above diastolic

Because it’s very common for a patient to have hypertension and not even know it, the importance of annual screenings can’t be overstated.” Dr. Ahmed said. “If your doctor finds your blood pressure to be high on a single visit, he or she will likely ask you to come back for additional checks at various times of the day, or you might be sent home with a monitor to evaluate your pressure around the clock. These are valuable methods of ensuring the diagnosis is accurate, before discussing necessary lifestyle changes or prescribing medication.”

While most people are aware of the danger that high blood pressure poses as a path to heart disease, there are other long-term risks associated with uncontrolled hypertension. Kidney disease, stroke, eye disease and atherosclerosis are all potentially life-threatening conditions directly related to hypertension.

The good news is that most cases of high blood pressure are highly responsive to lifestyle changes. The most important tools for controlling hypertension are:

  1. Losing weight. If your body mass index (BMI) is above 25, your risk of hypertension increases significantly.
  2. Quitting smoking. Smoking is one of the most prevalent independent causes of high blood pressure. It also dramatically decreases your chances of survival if you experience a related health episode.
  3. Eating a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber and lean proteins, as well as one low in salt and saturated fats, will help reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
  4. Being more physically active. Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity, aerobic exercise each week.
  5. Limiting alcohol. Consume no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.

In addition to lifestyle modifications, earlier treatment with anti-hypertensive drugs may be advised for some people, due to the stricter guidelines released by the American Heart Association and American College of Surgeons.

If you are concerned about the status of your blood pressure, make an appointment with your primary care physician to get it checked. For more information or to find a doctor, call 1-855-TENNOVA (836-6682) or visit Tennova.com. (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 05/22/2018-6AM)