Published on February 01, 2017

Understanding Hypertension – Is Your Blood Pressure ‘Under Control’?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common condition in which the force of the blood against your artery walls is consistently high, eventually increasing the risk of health problems such as heart disease or stroke. As of 2016, a shocking 75 million Americans were estimated to have high blood pressure – that’s one in every three adults! Even more concerning is that only about half of the people living with hypertension have their condition under control.

“Hypertension has earned the nickname ‘silent killer’, and rightfully so,” says Keren McCarthy, DO, internal medicine. “Most people experience virtually no symptoms until the condition reaches the most advanced stages and some not even then. Screening and prevention should be, at minimum, a part of every adult’s annual health check.”

Inactivity, poor diet, obesity, genetics, and certain conditions and medications can all be factors for hypertension, as can the simple process of aging. First and foremost, everyone should understand what high blood pressure IS, and how and when to be concerned about their numbers. The blood pressure reading reflects systolic pressure (force of the blood against the artery walls as your heart beats) over diastolic pressure (the blood pressure between heartbeats). For example, a reading of 120/80 mmHg means systolic pressure is 120 and diastolic pressure is 80.

Normal blood pressure: systolic = less than 120 AND diastolic = less than 80 mmHg
Pre-hypertension: systolic = 120-139 OR diastolic = 80-89 mmHg
Stage 1 Hypertension: systolic = 140-159 OR diastolic = 90-99 mmHg
Stage 2 Hypertension: systolic = 160 or greater OR diastolic = 100 or greater

Since it is not uncommon for a patient to have stage 2 hypertension and not be aware of it, the need for regular screening by a clinician qualified to diagnose hypertension cannot be overstated. If a physician finds your pressure to be high on a single visit, he or she will most likely employ additional checks or methods before diagnosing hypertension. The provider may ask you to come back for a couple of additional checks at various times of the day, or might even send you home with a monitor to evaluate your pressure around the clock. These are valuable methods for ensuring the diagnosis is accurate, before discussing necessary lifestyle changes and/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 (arterial disease) are all potentially life-threatening conditions directly related to hypertension that can be avoided with proper treatment and lifestyle changes.

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

  • Losing weight – if your BMI is above 25, your risk of hypertension increases significantly.
  • Quitting smoking – smoking is one of the most prevalent independent causes of high blood pressure, and dramatically decreases your chances of survival of a related health episode.
  • Healthy diet – eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber and lean proteins, and low in salt and saturated fats.
  • Avoiding sitting - the dangers of sitting for extended periods of time have been widely documented in recent years. While regular episodic exercise is good, getting up and moving for a few minutes at least every hour is critical for those with hypertension.
  • Limiting alcohol – those with high blood pressure will find it very difficult to control, even with medication, if they are consuming more than 1 or 2 drinks per day.
  • Seeking treatment for sleep apnea - sleep and breathing disturbances are a significant factor in several chronic diseases, and are especially dangerous to those with hypertension if not treated and managed.

If you don’t feel confident about the status of your blood pressure, make an appointment with your primary care physician. For assistance finding a physician who can screen, diagnose and treat hypertension, visit WWW.MYCHESTNUTHILLDOC.COM and click on Find A Doctor. Dr. McCarthy is accepting new patients at her practice, Northwest Internal Medicine, in Wyndmoor.

Chestnut Hill Hospital (CHH) is a community-based, university-affiliated, teaching hospital committed to excellent patient-centered care. CHH provides a full range of inpatient and outpatient, diagnostic and treatment services for our neighbors in northwest Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County. More than 300 board-certified physicians comprise the medical staff and support medical specialties including minimally invasive laparoscopic and robotic surgery, cardiology, gynecology, oncology, orthopedics, urology, family practice and internal medicine. Our comprehensive services include primary care practices, two women’s centers and an off-site physical therapy center. CHH is affiliated with university-hospitals in Philadelphia for heart and stroke care, as well as our hospitalist and residency programs. Chestnut Hill has 130-beds and is accredited by the Joint Commission. To learn more about CHH, visit CHESTNUTHILLHEALTH.COM.