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Living Well

High Blood Pressure: Quiet Contender for Your Health

Last updated: May 02, 2016

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious health problem that often has no symptoms. For this reason, it's known as a silent killer. Many people don't know they have high blood pressure unless they visit their doctor for another reason; but some people with high blood pressure have headaches, nausea, vomiting, and vision problems. 

Summit Medical Group and the American Medical Group Foundation 
are participating in the
 Measure Up/Pressure Down (MUPD)™ 
National Day of Action to raise awareness 
about the dangers of high blood pressure.

Together with MUPD, Summit Medical Group encourages patients to have yearly blood pressure checks, achieve blood pressure goals, and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. The initiative also helps educate patients about lifestyle changes that can help achieve blood pressure goals.

Listen to this related podcast by Dr. Lunenfeld:

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard blood pushes against the walls of blood vessels when it's moving through your body. Each time your heart beats, blood pressure is either at its maximum (systolic) or minimum (diastolic) rate. Systolic pressure, or the top number, shows how hard blood is pushing against your vessel walls when your heart is beating. Diastolic pressure, or the bottom number, shows how hard blood is pushing against your vessel walls when your heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

"If you suspect you have high blood pressure, you shouldn't ignore it," says Summit Medical Group internist and nephrologist Ellen Lunenfeld, MD. "Hypertension is a serious condition," Dr. Lunenfeld adds. "When it stays too high over time, it can damage your blood vessels, heart, kidneys, and eyes. And if it's not treated, high blood pressure can eventually cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or other serious health problems."

When is blood pressure considered high?

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Although blood pressure varies depending on age, gender, and ethnicity, a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 mm Hg. Blood pressure that is measured at 140/90 mm Hg or more is considered high. If your blood pressure measures somewhere between the normal and high readings, then you have a condition known as prehypertension

What causes high blood pressure?

The most common causes of high blood pressure are:

  • Family history
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes, certain hormone disorders, or kidney disease
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating too much salt
  • Being inactive
  • Having too little potassium and calcium
  • Smoking
  • Stress

Diagnosing High Blood Pressure

"To confirm that you have high blood pressure, it must be at least 140/90 mm Hg at 3 or more screenings that are taken 1 to 2 weeks apart," says Dr. Lunenfeld. "If, however, you have even one blood pressure reading of 160/100 mm Hg or higher, you will immediately be diagnosed with hypertension. When blood pressure is very high, it must be treated immediately," emphasizes Dr. Lunenfeld, a specialist in preventing and treating kidney disease that's associated with high blood pressure.

Treating High Blood Pressure

Treatment for high blood pressure varies depending on your overall health. For example, if you have diabetes or other chronic health problems, your doctor is likely to prescribe a medication such as a beta blocker, calcium channel blocker, or diuretic to control your blood pressure and protect your organs. He or she also will recommend lifestyle changes for you. If you are otherwise healthy, your doctor might first encourage you to make changes in your lifestyle to lower your blood pressure.

Dr. Lunenfeld says, "The good news is, treating high blood pressure in its early stages can help protect your blood vessels and organs. That's why it's so important to have your blood pressure checked at your yearly physical examination." She adds, "As you age, your blood vessels will become less flexible and your blood pressure is likely to increase. For this reason, it's wise to have your blood pressure checked more often to protect your health."

Lifestyle changes that can help lower your blood pressure are:

  • Losing and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly (at least 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week)
  • Limiting how much alcohol you drink (2 drinks a day for a man, 1 drink a day for a woman)
  • Limiting salt to less than 1500 milligrams per day
  • Not smoking
  • Eating a low-fat diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy foods for calcium
  • Managing stress with yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques
  • Taking blood pressure medication as prescribed

Blood Pressure Guide
Click here to download a Form
that can help you

Please call your Summit Medical Group 
internist or family medicine practitioner
to schedule your appointment.