Monitoring Your Blood Pressure: What You Need to Know
In today’s digital age, we are surrounded by numbers. An accurate assessment of our lives could be summarized by knowing our individual significant numbers (i.e. birth date, I.Q, anniversary, social security number, address, telephone number, height, weight, etc.). While these are important, there’s one set of personal numbers that many people do not know – their blood pressure.
In the U.S., only 53 percent of persons with elevated blood pressure have it adequately controlled. The numbers composing one’s blood pressure measurement are directly correlated with life expectancy and quality of life. A high number set is associated with stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and even loss of vision.
While most disregard their blood pressure unless they are ill, everyone should be consistently aware of their blood pressure level, as it can lead to serious problems if it’s not well controlled. In fact, my father, grandfather and great uncles all died from strokes related to poorly controlled blood pressure. However, unlike some of our other life numbers, blood pressure numbers can be improved, which could lead to a prolonged and improved life.
An important first step is learning what the blood pressure number set means:
- The base line numbers are measured in millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg). The upper number measures the systolic, or highest, pressure in the artery and the lower number measures the lowest pressure of a compressed artery. Base line numbers above 135/85 on repeated measurements are the inflection point where damage begins to occur.
- Blood pressure equal to or greater than 140/90 on multiple readings is considered to be above average and would require treatment, whether through the use of medication or a change in lifestyle. If your blood pressure is below 140/90 but greater than 135/85, discuss treatment or frequency of measurement with your doctor.
- If your blood pressure is less than 130/80, measure it at least once a year through an annual doctor’s visit. Typically no treatment is necessary unless it has increased rapidly from much lower readings in the past. However, if your family has a history of high blood pressure, or you have a lifestyle change such as increased levels of stress or weight, consider measuring more often.
Home blood pressure monitoring is the ideal way to keep a continuous and accurate knowledge of this important number. Blood pressure is simple to measure and the tools used for measuring are constantly improving. Additionally, monitoring at home also saves time and money by not requiring frequent trips to the doctor. Take the time to schedule an educational visit at your doctor’s office with your personal device to check its accuracy with an office mercury manometer and learn the proper procedure for the blood pressure cuff placement on an unclothed, bare upper arm.
My family’s history with poor blood pressure and strokes have contributed to my self-awareness with health. I have a home blood pressure cuff and do weekly measurements to monitor my numbers closely, which could help me catch health issues early. Additionally, if you do have high blood pressure, there are a variety of medications you can take to regulate your numbers. Consult your doctor on the best medicine to take for your blood pressure.
Finally, let us not overlook non-drug therapy to reduce blood pressure. Aerobic exercise, weight reduction, healthy food choices and limited alcohol intake all add up to reducing one’s blood pressure numbers.
Remember: know, monitor and lower your blood pressure because it could save your life!
By: Michael Stoltz, M.D.