Each annual exam with your primary care provider — and every unexpected sick visit, for that matter — begins by sliding your arm into an inflatable cuff to have your blood pressure measured. From preventive physicals and acute care visits to chronic disease management appointments and everything in between, blood pressure screenings are a key component of health care at every level.

This is by design, of course. Keeping tabs on your blood pressure helps you catch concerning changes early, so you can take steps to get it under control before it undermines your health.

At Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, we’re committed to helping all our patients evade or escape the insidious grip of hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure — and widely referred to as the silent killer.

Here, board-certified nurse practitioner and preventive cardiac care specialist Eliza Codd, ARNP, FNP-BC, AG-ACNP-BC, CLS, discusses the dangers of untreated hypertension, and explains why it’s so important to know your blood pressure numbers.

Get to know your blood pressure numbers

Blood pressure (BP) refers to the amount of force your blood exerts against your arteries as it flows through your body. Your arteries move oxygen-rich blood from your heart and lungs to the rest of your body.

What BP numbers measure

The first number in a BP reading shows the amount of force your blood exerts on your arteries when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second number reveals how much force your blood exerts on your arteries between each beat when your heart is at rest (diastolic pressure).

Making sense of a BP reading

BP measurements fall into four categories:

  • Normal, healthy blood pressure is at or below 119/79
  • Elevated blood pressure falls between 120/80 and 129/80
  • Stage one hypertension begins at 130/80
  • Stage two hypertension develops at or above 140/90

Because many factors can influence your BP measurement on any given day, one elevated reading is considered a prompt to investigate further. Elevated or high blood pressure is only diagnosed after several consistently high BP readings.

Most Americans have high blood pressure

Hypertension is the medical term for chronically high blood pressure, a serious disease that occurs when your blood continuously exerts too much force against arterial walls.

About 116 million people in the United States — or nearly one in two American adults (47%) — has high blood pressure. Millions more have elevated BP levels that leave them vulnerable to developing hypertension, and most aren’t aware of their condition.

Only about one in four people (24%) with high blood pressure has the condition under control; what’s more, almost half of adults (45%) with uncontrolled high blood pressure have the most dangerous form of the disease — stage two hypertension. That amounts to 37 million people in the U.S.

A silent and far reaching health problem

Uncontrolled hypertension is hard on your body. It’s called a “silent” disease because it can exist for years without causing symptoms or health concerns. All along, this hidden problem damages your circulatory system, effectively setting the stage for chronic illnesses like heart disease, peripheral artery disease, kidney disease, and other serious conditions.

Untreated hypertension also significantly increases your chances of having a having a heart attack or stroke, two leading causes of death in the U.S.

Hypertension is preventable and treatable

While knowing the major risk factors for high blood pressure (family history, older age, being overweight, having diabetes) can put the problem on your radar, it’s important to recognize that hypertension is also an indiscriminate disease that anyone can develop.

Luckily, having routine blood pressure screenings is all it takes to catch the problem early, so you can get it under control before it undermines your health. You can control — or in some cases reverse — hypertension by:

  • Switching to a heart-healthy diet
  • Becoming more physically active
  • Reaching a healthier body weight
  • Quitting smoking; avoiding alcohol
  • Minimizing the effects of stressors
  • Controlling your blood sugar levels
  • Taking blood pressure medications

And if you have healthy blood pressure levels but carry a moderate to high risk of developing hypertension, the very same lifestyle strategies that treat the problem can help you prevent it altogether.

If you don’t know your blood pressure numbers, now is the perfect time to find out. Call or click online to schedule a visit at Woodlands Vein Center & Preventative Medicine Clinic in Shenandoah, Texas, today.

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