The bottle of high blood pressure medication on your mom’s kitchen counter may make you think about your own risk.
While family history is a predictor for high blood pressure, the biggest risk factor is age.
According to Dr. David Stultz, cardiologist with Kettering Health Network, about 50% of adults have high blood pressure. At age 75, that number increases to 80%.
Identifying the problem
Perhaps just as important as knowing the prevalence of high blood pressure is knowing that most people don’t experience symptoms.
“You’ll recognize high blood pressure by measuring it,” Dr. Stultz says. “For patients without diagnosed hypertension, we recommend having your blood pressure checked once a year in a doctor’s office or even at home.”
Symptoms like headaches, chest pain, and shortness of breath may indicate your blood pressure is high. So, it’s best not to wait until you’re experiencing these symptoms to see your doctor.
Measuring high blood pressure
Most adults should check their blood pressure once a year—generally at their annual physical.
But at-home blood pressure cuffs help those who are uneasy about the possibility of high blood pressure keep tabs on their numbers themselves.
“Most of the cuffs you’d use at home are reasonably accurate and will certainly give you a sense of where things are,” Dr. Stultz says
According to Dr. Stultz, consistency is key. If you regularly receive the same reading from your cuff, it’s likely accurate.
If your numbers appear “all over the place” with an at-home cuff, it’s a good idea to see your doctor for a more accurate reading.
When the numbers read high
Not sure how soon to see your doctor? Dr. Stultz explains symptoms indicate how urgently you need to address the problem.
“Without symptoms, a blood pressure reading of 130/85 at home is stage 1 hypertension, which should be evaluated by your physician,” Dr. Stultz said. “It’s not an emergency, but you’ll want to make an appointment in the next few weeks.”
However, if you have symptoms, that’s a more urgent matter. You should be evaluated in the emergency room or urgent care.
Addressing the issue
While a condition without symptoms is easy to ignore, Dr. Stultz stresses that left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to long-term health concerns.
“Think of it as putting too much stress on the system for some time,” Dr. Stultz says. “You can do it for a little while, and you’ll probably be OK. But it’s called a silent killer for a reason.”
Eventually high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, vision loss, and erectile dysfunction.
Your doctor will look at your lifestyle for factors that may be affecting your blood pressure. They might recommend dietary changes—such as reducing salt—or an increase in physical activity.
If that doesn’t prove effective, or if you’re dealing with higher levels of hypertension, your doctor may recommend medication.
“Most of the medications are inexpensive, very effective, and have few or mild side effects,” Dr. Stultz says.
Take the next step to find and manage high blood pressure. Find a primary care provider today.