Did you know that approximately 90 percent of all Americans will develop hypertension over their lifetime? One in three adults has high blood pressure, yet, many people don’t even know they have it.
Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs when your blood flows with too much force through your arteries, stretching your arteries beyond a healthy limit and causing microscopic tears. Though our body naturally repairs these tears with scar tissue, that tissue also traps plaque and white blood cells, which can turn into blockages, blood clots, and hardened, weakened arteries. These effects, in turn, prevent blood flow and cause heart tissue to die, causing further severe conditions, such as stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and heart failure.
High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease and can injure or kill you. It is known as the “silent killer” as it shows no symptoms, except in its most extreme cases known as hypertensive crisis, and without knowing it, you can damage your heart, brain, eyes and kidneys.
Blood pressure measures the force pushing against your arterial walls. A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers, systolic and diastolic. The systolic blood pressure is usually the higher number on the top that shows the pressure on the arteries when the heart is beating or contracting. This usually increases as you get older, but is given more attention as it can be a major risk factor for heart disease for those 50 years and older. Diastolic blood pressure is the lower number at the bottom that measures the pressure on the arteries between heartbeats or when the heart is resting.
It is very important to maintain your blood pressure at a healthy level to avoid severe health conditions. A normal level of blood pressure is less than 120 mm Hg systolic AND less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, so less than 120/80 mm Hg, for ages 20 and over. Keeping your blood pressure within this range can help reduce your risk of overstretched or injured blood vessel walls and blockages that cause your heart to pump harder as well as protect your body so that your tissue receives regular supplies of oxygen-rich blood.
High blood pressure is manageable and with a few lifestyle changes you can stay healthy and avoid medication:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet, which includes reducing sodium as well as saturated and trans fat, cholesterol and added sugars, and eating foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight — 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity five times a week. Unfit or moderately fit adults had twice the risk for high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and diabetes than those who were highly fit.
- Managing stress
- Limiting alcohol – one to two drinks for men and one drink for women
- Avoiding tobacco smoke
- Regular blood pressure screenings – the American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure screening at your regular health care visit or once every 2 years after age 20, if your blood pressure is more than 120/80 mm Hg. You can also consider home-monitoring.
Emory Healthcare is a proud sponsor of the American Heart Association’s My Heart. My Life Campaign which promotes My Life Check – Life’s Simple 7. Eating better is one of the 7 steps to a healthier heart.
Learn more about the Emory Heart & Vascular Center by visiting emoryhealthcare.org/heartandvascular
Dr. Gregory Robertson
Gregory Robertson, MD, is chief of the Emory Heart and Vascular Clinic at Johns Creek. At Emory Johns Creek Hospital, he is chief of Cardiology and the medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and Interventional Program. He is board-certified in Vascular Medicine, Endovascular Medicine, Interventional Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine. He is an associate professor of medicine at Emory University. Dr. Robertson’s clinical expertise has focused on preventative care and using minimally invasive vascular and cardiac treatment.