Blood Pressure: Do You Know Your Numbers?
There are many stresses that interrupt us daily, but the pressure put upon your heart is particularly important to consider.
By understanding what blood pressure is and knowing your numbers, you can reduce your risk of other serious diseases.
Joseph Kummer, MD, Bryan Heart cardiologist, walks us through what those numbers mean and how to change them.
Too High, Too Low, or Just Right
Blood pressure is simply the pressure within the arteries in your body. The heart primarily generates this pressure. It squeezes and pumps blood forward. The harder it squeezes, the higher the pressure.
The whole body, including your brain, kidneys, and liver, is designed to operate at a certain level of pressure flowing through it. If your blood pressure is too high or too low, it can be very harmful.
What do Those Numbers Mean?
Generally, 120/80 is considered normal. The systolic measure is the upper number; the diastolic is the lower.
“When the heart squeezes, the highest amount of pressure at the maximum squeezing is the systolic measurement,” explains Dr. Kummer. “So, that’s as high as it gets. When the heart relaxes, it’s filling with blood, getting ready for the next beat. But, there’s still pressure throughout the whole system. Basically, it’s just the peak and the trough of where that blood pressure fluctuates.”
You Won’t Know Unless You Get Checked
High blood pressure is known as the silent killer, because it frequently has no symptoms. The only way to know, the majority of the time, is to get it checked.
“Very often, we’ll find that blood pressure is very high, even dangerously high, and yet patients feel fine,” says Dr. Kummer. “You need to get yours checked, because even if you feel good, you still could have high blood pressure.”
What is Considered High?
Generally, doctors want to see blood pressure less than 140/90. If you have other conditions like poor kidney function, diabetes or heart disease, your doctor might want that figure a bit lower.
When you’re exercising, your blood pressure should naturally be higher, along with your heart rate. “The blood pressure itself changes all the time throughout the course of the day, due to physical exertion and stress, as well as just the natural fluctuation based upon hormones and other systemic shifts throughout the course of the day,” says Dr. Kummer. “So, it’s really important to check your blood pressure multiple times to determine an accurate assessment.”
You Have High Blood Pressure: Now What?
Dr. Kummer encourages patients with high blood pressure to get a home blood pressure cuff.
Why is this necessary?
The perfect way to check blood pressure is when you’ve been sitting at rest for several minutes. Unfortunately, this rarely happens in a doctor’s office. You may have “white coat hypertension” after fighting traffic and rushing to your appointment (only to sit and stew in the waiting room), or the sight of a doctor may make you anxious…all of which leads to a less accurate reading. But, if you have a home blood pressure cuff, you can check it frequently.
“Check it at different times of the day; before you go to bed, first thing in the morning,” advises Dr. Kummer. “Then, you get a better, more accurate assessment of what the blood pressure runs on average.”
Treatment: Lifestyle Changes vs. Medication
Most doctors try not to immediately jump to medication as a solution.
“Limiting your salt intake and exercising more frequently are two very important things for lowering blood pressure, and they don’t have anything to do with medication,” says Dr. Kummer. “If you’re overweight, controlling your weight and/or losing weight can be very helpful, because too much weight tends to drive blood pressure up as well.”
When diet and lifestyle choices (i.e. quitting or cutting back on smoking) have not made a difference, it’s time to look at medication. Many viable options exist; you and your doctor just have to find the one that works best for you.
For more information you can go to bryanheart.com.
To listen to an interview with Dr. Joseph Kummer, cardiologist at Bryan Heart, follow this link: Blood Pressure: Do You Know Your Numbers?