High blood pressure affects one-in-three Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control, making May’s National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month that much more important.
Local health providers warn that if untreated, high blood pressure can cause your heart to work harder, which can lead to serious health conditions.
Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, which is why it is often referred to as a “silent killer,” according to Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
Dr. Oliver Sahagun, staff physician in emergency room at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, said hypertension is not uncommon, in fact, it becomes more common the older we get.
When a nurse takes your blood pressure, they are measuring the force of blood against the walls of your blood vessels, and ideally, a normal pressure should be below 120/80 mmHg, according to Kaiser Permanente.
High blood pressure is related to a multitude of factors, such as environment, genetics, diet or sometimes even anxiety, Sahagun explained.
The most common causes are when you’re scared, anxious or hungry, but a high blood pressure could also mean something bad is causing it, like thyroid or kidney problems, according to Sahagun.
Because there often aren’t any symptoms associated with high blood pressure, most people don’t know they have it.
“It’s always a good idea to get checked once a year, no matter how old you are,” Sahagun said.
Dr. Jennifer Nguyen, a cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, agrees, and said, “Getting one’s blood pressure checked regularly can aid in the prevention of hypertension.”
Both Sahagun and Nguyen said there are simple steps to improving health and lowering blood pressure.
Nguyen suggests maintaining a healthy weight, eating low sodium food, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol consumption.
Some other risk factors include physical inactivity, smoking or even secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, stress, and fatty foods, according to Sahagun.
Sahagun suggests trying to keep stress levels down, as well as doing at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise everyday.
“If you have high blood pressure, whatever you do, don’t ignore it,” Nguyen said.
Once diagnosed, it can be treated with medication, and minor changes in diet and lifestyle can reduce or in some cases eliminate hypertension altogether, according to Nguyen.
Sahagun recommends those who do have high blood pressure check it routinely, in morning when you wake up and at night when go to sleep, and keep a log so that your physicians can make adjustments to medications if needed.
If you do have high blood pressure, both Nguyen and Sahagun caution to continue taking medications even if you feel fine, because if your blood pressure stays up over a prolonged period, it can not only damage the blood vessels, but also cause strokes, cardiomyopathy, kidney failure and heart attacks.
If your blood pressure ever gets over 200, be sure to seek medical attention and get it evaluated, Sahagun said.