Understanding the Risks of High Blood Pressure

 

You know the drill. You’re in your physician’s office and one of the first things that happens is someone checks your blood pressure. While you may be familiar with this simple test, you may not understand why your blood pressure is so important.

“Knowing your blood pressure is a critical part of managing your health,” says Kerunne Ketlogetswe, MD, MHS, a cardiologist at MedStar Harbor Hospital. “If it’s high and you don’t know it, or if it goes uncontrolled, you may be at greater risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, or kidney disease.”

High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—can damage the arteries that carry the blood through your body. As blood moves through the arteries, it puts pressure on the artery walls. This pressure goes up and down depending on several things, including physical activity, diet, and medication. 

Kerunne Ketlogetswe, MD

A person has high blood pressure or hypertension when the pressure remains elevated over a period of time. But many people don’t know they have high blood pressure until something bad happens. That is why hypertension is sometimes called the silent killer—a person may have no symptoms even when their blood pressure is dangerously high.

“Most people don’t realize that they can’t feel hypertension,” explains Dr. Ketlogetswe. “The only way to know your blood pressure is to have it checked. Having it checked regularly will help you and your healthcare provider manage it if it is too high. We have many safe and effective medications to control hypertension.”

Experts consider optimal blood pressure to be lower than 120/80. Blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher indicate hypertension.

“Blood pressure tends to rise with age,” Dr. Ketlogetswe notes. “People who are obese, who have medical problems such as diabetes, or who take certain medications, are at higher risk for developing high blood pressure.”

There are things you can do to prevent and/or control high blood pressure:

  • Don't smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
  • Watch your salt and sodium intake

“Blood pressure readings can be confusing,” adds Dr. Ketlogetswe. “They don’t have to be. Talk to your healthcare provider. Knowing your numbers and what they mean is an important step toward staying healthy.”