Hypertension, also called “high blood pressure”, is a medical condition that affects nearly half of all adults in the United States. It is caused by elevated pressure in the vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. There are many reasons why this occurs. Sometimes it is from poor diet or lifestyle choices, and sometimes it just runs in the family. Generally, we say blood pressure is elevated when the “top number” (systolic pressure) is higher than 120, and the “bottom number (diastolic pressure) is greater than 80.
“My doctor told me I have high blood pressure, but I feel completely fine!“
Many patients with hypertension don’t have any symptoms whatsoever. However, it is still important to control blood pressure because hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and many other serious medical problems over time. Think about your body’s vascular system like a complex series of pipes. If the pressures in the pipes are too high for too long, it can strain the plumbing system and make the pumps (in this case, the heart) work too hard which can cause serious problems in the future.
“I check my blood pressure at home and the numbers are normal, but when I go to the doctor the numbers are higher!”
Many different things can cause elevated blood pressure, most often of which is stress. Going to the doctor can be stressful for lots of patients, and when we check blood pressures in the office they can be higher than what they would normally be at home. Therefore, we encourage our patients to keep a record of their blood pressure at home two to three times per week and bring it to their appointment to show their doctor. Electronic blood pressure cuffs can be purchased at any pharmacy. Even better, most pharmacies or fire stations have a blood pressure machine inside where you can check your pressure for free!
There are lots of medications on the market that can treat hypertension. You can also try limiting salt in your diet with a goal of less than two grams total of sodium per day. Diet and exercise are also some of the best ways to prevent and treat high blood pressure.
Hypertension is a “silent” medical condition which we must take seriously to avoid serious medical conditions in the future. Taking your medications prescribed by your doctor daily and doing your best to live an active and healthy lifestyle are the best ways to manage your hypertension.
Dr. Downham is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.