By Dr. Fadi Alfayoumi, M.D., FACC, FSCAI and Dr. Mohamed Morsy, M.D., FACC, FASE

The Heart & Vascular Clinic, Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE Why is high blood pressure a problem?  Blood pressure measures the force of the blood pulsing against the walls of your arteries. With each heart beat, blood pumps into your arteries from your heart. This moment of highest pressure is called systolic pressure. When the heart rests, between beats, blood pressure falls. This is the diastolic pressure. A healthy person has a blood pressure reading of 120/80 or less. The 120 represents the heart beating and the 80 measures the pressure between beats.

High blood pressure or hypertension is an unhealthy increase of blood pressure. An estimated 65 million Americans have high blood pressure.  About 19 million don’t know they have this life-threatening medical problem, because it usually has no symptoms. Unfortunately, if blood pressure rises and stays high over time, it can damage the body in many ways and cause death.  Stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney failure can result from high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a reading of over 140/90 in otherwise healthy people. People with diabetes or chronic kidney disease are treated for hypertension if their blood pressure rises above 130/80. Blood pressure can reach unhealthy levels because a person is overweight, lives a sedentary lifestyle, smokes, does not eat healthy foods, or drinks excessive amounts of alcohol. These risk factors are within control of the individual.  Diabetes, kidney disease, sleep apnea and other medical conditions may contribute to high blood pressure.

You can decrease your risk of heart attack, stroke, and death by controlling your blood pressure.  This is possible through healthy habits and by taking medicine if needed. A great start to improving cardiovascular and overall health is by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and limiting amounts of salt.  Exercising – simple walking – at least 30 minute per day most days can help improve your health and general well-being.  Quitting smoking is highly beneficial in reducing blood pressure, as is limiting caffeinated and alcoholic beverages to only one or two per day.

An important point to remember in the diagnosis of high blood pressure is that a single above-normal reading in a physician’s office does not necessarily mean you have a problem. Some people’s blood pressure increases out of anxiety just from being in a physician’s office, a condition called “white-coat hypertension.”  The best way to tell if you truly have a blood pressure problem is to monitor it a few times a day at home and record your readings. Your physician can use the readings to determine if you have high blood pressure.

Lifestyle modifications are not always enough to control blood pressure.  Your doctor can determine treatment regimen and which medications are right for you. Numerous medications are available to treat high blood, and a healthy diet may help the medication you take work better.

When blood pressure is high, the heart is working too hard to get the blood through your body.  Checking your blood pressure is a smart, quick and painless step toward enjoying a longer, healthier life.