High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious health condition that can lead to other health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately one-third of all American adults have high blood pressure, including many people in their early 20s. Another third of all Americans suffer from pre-hypertension, meaning that their blood pressure levels are higher than normal.
In addition, high blood pressure remains largely undiagnosed, with 20 percent of those suffering hypertension being unaware of their condition.
The first step to fighting hypertension is to consult with your doctor to measure your blood pressure, which is a quick and easy procedure.
These days, you can also find blood pressure monitors at your local drug store. Most of these devices are inexpensive and reasonably accurate, allowing you to check your blood pressure on a regular basis without the need to see your doctor.
However, if you currently do not know your blood pressure level, I recommend that you initially see your doctor so that he or she can work with you to create an optimal healthy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, just as physicians continue to focus on the less essential risk factors for heart disease, so too are they ignoring the most effective way for evaluating patients' blood pressure levels. The majority of physicians rely on traditional one time office blood pressure measurements.
A far better approach is to measure average blood pressure levels over the course of 24 hours. This is accomplished by using what is known as ambulatory 24-hour blood pressure measurements in which a patient’s pressure is measured throughout the day and night. (The use of home blood pressure tests can make accomplishing this task easier.)
This type of 24-hour blood pressure monitoring also helps to determine if a patient is what is known as a "dipper" or "non-dipper."
Blood pressure tends to drop when we sleep. This is called "dipping." Some people with high blood pressure do not dip when sleeping, putting them at risk for a stroke. These people can benefit from taking small doses of melatonin before bed, which will result in dipping.
Nighttime blood pressure levels are typically more important than daytime blood pressure levels.
Although high blood pressure is not a disease, it is a valuable marker for heart disease. Therefore, it’s crucial that it be correctly identified.
When measuring blood pressure levels, you and your doctor should consider the following facts:
• Blood pressure readings of 120/80 mmHg are considered normal. The number 120 is called the systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in the artery when the heart pumps. The number 80 is called the diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure in the artery when the heart relaxes (fills).
• Each blood pressure increase of 20/10 mmHg can double the risk of heart disease.
• Before age 50, the diastolic blood pressure is the best predictor of heart disease risk; after age 50, the systolic blood pressure is a better indicator of risk.
• When measuring blood pressure, it is best to use arm cuffs, not wrist or finger monitors.
If your doctor finds that your blood pressure is high, be advised that he or she may recommend blood pressure medication. In cases of dangerously high blood pressure levels, such drugs can literally be lifesavers.
But even though such drugs can relieve the symptoms of high blood pressure, they do little or nothing to resolve its underlying causes. Additionally, many of these drugs can cause unhealthy side effects.
If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor to help you determine whatever factors may be contributing to your condition, and then develop a plan to correct that condition.
Next time, I’ll give you some simple tips to manage your blood pressure.
Posts by Michael Galitzer, M.D. and Larry Trivieri Jr.
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