Afrooz Ardestani, MD, is a specialty care cardiologist board-certified in cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology, adult comprehensive echocardiography and internal medicine.
High blood pressure is very common. Nearly half of adults in the U.S. have blood pressure above the healthy range. But just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s no big deal.
Untreated, high blood pressure — also called hypertension — can damage your heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
But there is one good thing about hypertension: It’s treatable. Taking control of your blood pressure can help prevent serious health problems down the line. It could even save your life.
Blood Pressure Ranges
How high is too high? Blood pressure readings consist of two numbers: an upper (systolic) number and a lower (diastolic) number. Together these numbers determine your blood pressure range.
- Normal: less than 120/80
- Elevated: 120-129/less than 80
- High blood pressure (stage 1): 130-139/80-89
- High blood pressure (stage 2): 140+/90+
Often, people have no symptoms of high blood pressure. Even in the doctor’s office, it can be a hidden problem. As many as a third of U.S. adults have what’s known as “masked hypertension.” For them, blood pressure appears normal in the doctor’s office. But in their daily lives, they may actually have elevated blood pressure.
Masked hypertension seems to be particularly common in people who regularly experience high stress at work or in other areas of their life. Stress isn’t the only culprit, though. These other factors also increase risk:
- Family history
- Overweight and obesity
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High-salt diet
- Older age
Diagnosing High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is more common as we age. So even if your blood pressure has always been in the normal range, you can’t assume it will stay that way forever. That’s why it’s so important to know your numbers.
One of the easiest ways to keep tabs on your blood pressure is to use an at-home blood pressure cuff, which you can find at most pharmacies. Start by checking in the morning and evening, and talk to your doctor if you find the readings are higher than the ones you get in the doctor’s office.
If you or your doctor suspects you might have masked hypertension, he or she might send you home with a cuff to wear for 24 hours to get a better picture of your blood pressure throughout the day and night.
Lowering Blood Pressure
Many people think if their blood pressure is just “a little high,” it’s not something they need to worry about. But even mildly elevated blood pressure can be harmful. Fortunately, there are a number of straightforward things people can do to lower hypertension:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and low in saturated fat.
- Reduce your salt intake to less than 1,500 mg per day.
- Get regular exercise — at least 35 to 40 minutes a day, 4-7 days a week
- Quit smoking.
- If you drink alcohol, do it in moderation. (That means no more than 1 drink a day for women, 2 for men).
For many people, those lifestyle changes help a lot. If lifestyle changes aren’t enough, medication can help lower the numbers. We have many safe medications we can offer to bring your blood pressure back down to the normal range and significantly lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Taking your blood pressure is a small thing, but it’s a big step toward a healthy heart. Need help keeping your heart healthy? Find an Inova heart specialist and learn more about the award-winning doctors at the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.