Breaking Down the Numbers: Hypertension 101

In 2017, more than 30 percent of Michigan adults were diagnosed with high blood pressure, or hypertension. This condition is known as a “silent killer” nationwide, because most individuals are unaware they are experiencing one of the major risk factors associated with heart disease.

It’s important to learn more about how to monitor and maintain healthy blood pressure levels, along with the manageable lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.

What is Hypertension?

Hypertension is another term for high blood pressure. With every heartbeat, the body pushes blood through a network of vessels in the arteries, veins and capillaries. When the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels is too strong, an individual may be diagnosed with high blood pressure. Hypertension causes the heart to work harder and less efficiently, heightening the risk for more serious health issues including heart attacks, kidney disease, stroke, vision loss and many others.

The Equation to Healthy Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, read as a fraction. It’s recorded in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), the standard unit for pressure in medicine.

The top number represents an individual’s systolic blood pressure, or how much force is being exerted against an individual’s artery walls when the heart beats. The lower number, or diastolic blood pressure, identifies how much force is exerted while the heart is resting between beats.

Breaking Down the Numbers

A diagnosis of high blood pressure should always be confirmed with a doctor or medical professional. The American Heart Association (AHA) identifies blood pressure in five ranges:

  • Normal Blood Pressure: The optimal range is considered less than 80 mm hg and not over 80 mm Hg.
  • Elevated Blood Pressure: When an individual’s systolic level ranges from 120 to 129 mm Hg and their diastolic is less than 80 mm Hg, they are considered to have elevated blood pressure.
  • Hypertension Stage 1: If a person’s systolic level regularly ranges between 130 and 139 mm Hg, with a diastolic between 80 and 89 mm Hg, he or she is in hypertension stage 1. At this point, healthy lifestyle changes should be considered to lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Hypertension Stage 2: Blood pressure levels of 140 over 90 mm Hg or higher are considered Hypertension stage 2, which often requires a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to manage.
  • Hypertensive Crisis: The last stage recognized by the AHA is a blood pressure reading exceeding 180 over 90 mm Hg. This requires immediate professional medical attention, as it may lead to organ damage, chest pain, shortness of breath, vision loss and other serious life-threatening symptoms.

Treating Hypertension

High blood pressure influences the functionality of the coronary arteries, narrows the blood vessels and puts a strain on the heart over time. It has been shown that reducing sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day or less will reduce the number of people with high blood pressure by 11 million nationally. Untreated, hypertension can lead to varying vascular complications including stroke or heart attack. To lower and maintain healthy blood pressure levels, consider some of the following lifestyle changes:

  • Establish a healthy diet low in sodium
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit caffeine intake
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Lower stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking

About the author: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Photo Credit: Jeff Drognowski

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