No doubt you’ve had your blood pressure checked; it’s one of the first things your doctor or the medical staff will measure before an exam or checkup. Some grocery and convenience stores have a sit-down kiosk where you can check your own blood pressure. There are also a variety of at-home blood pressure monitors available for purchase.
The test itself is simple – a soft cuff encircles your upper arm and slowly inflates, tightening its grip on your arm, before slowly deflating. The entire process takes just a minute or two. It measures how hard your blood is pushing against the artery walls as it is pumped throughout your body.
What Numbers Are Considered High?
A blood pressure reading of 120/80 (“120 over 80”) is considered average. Keep in mind that it’s normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate throughout the day. It is typically lowest while you’re sleeping, and highest in the middle of the afternoon. Also, what is normal for you may change over time, depending on your age, gender, and other factors.
In general, having a top number between 90-120 and a bottom number between 60-80 is considered good. The top number measures your systolic pressure, or how hard your blood pushes against the artery walls each time your heart beats. The bottom number measures the diastolic pressure, which is the same pressure but between heartbeats.
The American Heart Association (AHA) has identified the following stages of high blood pressure:
- Stage 1: Top number of 130-139 or bottom number of 80-89
- Stage 2: Top number of 140+ or bottom number of 90+
- Crisis Stage: Top number of 180+ and/or bottom number of 120+
High blood pressure indicates a problem with blood flow. Left untreated, you run the risk of heart attack and other cardiac problems when insufficient blood gets to the heart, and a risk of stroke when blood flow to the brain is restricted. Your systolic pressure (the top number) is considered a clearer predictor of a fatal cardiovascular event.
Preventing High Blood Pressure
There are a number of proactive steps you can take to help ensure your blood pressure remains within a healthy, normal range, including:
- Consume less fat. Saturated fats – which are found in dairy products (milk, cheese, butter), fatty and processed meats (beef, pork, bacon, sausage), baked goods, fried foods, and even coconut oil or coconut cream – raise cholesterol levels. Cholesterol increases plaque (fatty) buildup in your blood vessels, restricting blood flow and thereby raising your blood pressure because the heart has to work harder to push all of the blood through the vessels.
- Reduce your salt intake. Most of our daily sodium intake is “hidden” in processed foods. Be sure to read labels and look for “sodium,” “Na,” or “soda” in the ingredient list. The AHA recommends 1,500 – 2,300 mg of salt per day for most adults. When you consume a lot of salt, your body stores extra water – which stresses your cardiovascular system as it clears out the excess salt from your body.
- Quit smoking. The nicotine in tobacco has a double-whammy effect on blood pressure: It narrows your blood vessels and speeds up your heart rate. So, less blood gets through your arteries and so your heart pumps faster, increasing the pressure against your artery walls.
- Get regular exercise. Regular physical exertion is good for so many things. When you exercise, you tone muscles, build endurance and improve circulation by reducing blood vessel stiffness. Your blood pressure will be noticeably lower after you exercise.
- Maintain a healthy weight for yourself. Carrying around excess weight can take a toll on your cardiovascular system, making it harder for your heart to pump sufficient quantities of blood throughout your body. Losing even just a little bit of weight can lower both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink. If you drink, aim for a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Drinking too much alcohol within a short period of time constricts your blood vessels so that less blood flows through your arteries and veins, temporarily raising your blood pressure. Regularly overdrinking can result in long-term damage by reducing the elasticity of your arteries.
- Enjoy adequate sleep. Not getting enough sleep can wreak all kinds of havoc on your physical and emotional health. Studies find that too-little sleep equates to too-high blood pressure. The good news is that brief midday naps appear to lower blood pressure levels.
- Take your blood pressure medication as prescribed. It’s important to consistently take your medication – at the same time of day every day, preferably. Blood pressure medications are not the type of drug you should stop taking when you feel better; it is required to keep your blood pressure within a normal range. Don’t stop taking any prescription medication without first consulting your physician.
- Manage stress in healthy ways. We all experience stress from time to time. When you are feeling stressed, your body releases hormones that speed up your heart rate and restrict blood flow, temporarily increasing your blood pressure. Being able to recognize the signs of stress in your body – and proactively calming yourself down – can allow you to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of other cardiovascular problems.
- Regularly see your doctor. Because the vast majority of people who have high blood pressure experience no symptoms of the condition, it is critical that you regularly see a physician who monitors your overall health, including your blood pressure. These readings, taken over time, can help your doctor understand what is normal for you and more easily notice when something is amiss and requires medication or other medical intervention.
Multispecialty Medical Group in Northern New Jersey
Our medical team at Hudson MD Group comprises experienced cardiologists, podiatrists, family physicians, and more. The biggest benefit of our practice is that we can take care of all of the medical needs for you and your whole family, and we are always welcoming new doctors to our extended medical group in North Jersey.
If you are a doctor looking to join our team or if you are a patient who would like to schedule an appointment with a doctor, contact our friendly staff today by calling (973) 705-4914 or find the location nearest you. We look forward to hearing from you!