A routine doctor’s appointment often involves a health professional checking your blood pressure. The screening is not painful or stressful and typically takes less than a minute to measure. However, the results of this simple test may identify a condition that, when managed, could help reduce your chances for stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.
High blood pressure, often referred to as the “silent killer,” does not have any symptoms, but can cause serious damage to arteries, leading to heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure can also cause irreversible damage to kidneys . Nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, and because there are no symptoms, many remain unaware of the condition for years, according to the American Medical Group Foundation (AMGF). A blood pressure screening in a doctor’s office can determine if you have healthy or high blood pressure. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals can help patients understand the risk factors for high blood pressure and its health problems, and recommend lifestyle modifications and/or medicines to control the disease.
The Measure Up/Pressure Down® national high blood pressure campaign is an initiative of AMGF to encourage adults to get in control by using lifestyle changes, including:
- Know your numbers. Understanding what blood pressure is and what your numbers are is an important first step. At its simplest, blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. Work with your health care team to determine your individual blood pressure goals and treatment plan if your numbers are too high.
- Eat right. A diet with excessive sodium (salt) may cause a person to retain fluid, which can lead to higher blood pressure. Potassium can help the body balance this sodium. Foods high in potassium include bananas, plain baked potatoes, avocados and cooked white beans. [Note: people with chronic kidney disease should consult with a renal dietitian to understand how much potassium is recommended in their meal plan.]
- Stay active. On average, people who are more active tend to have lower heart rates, which means the heart does less work each time it contracts, reducing the pressure on arteries. Adults should be active at least 30 minutes each day.
- Reduce stress. Many Americans respond to stressful situations by eating more, getting less exercise, drinking or smoking. Plus, a stressful situation can also increase blood pressure for a short period of time. Try to reduce the occurrence of these situations and look for healthy ways—like meditation or walking— to help you deal with stress.
- Set alcohol limits and eliminate tobacco. Over time, consuming a high amount of alcohol can damage the heart. Recommendations are for women to limit themselves to one drink a day and for men to two drinks to avoid seeing an increase in blood pressure. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke can immediately raise blood pressure levels and cause damage to the lining of arteries. If you’re interested in quitting your tobacco use, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
- Take medication. Your doctor may recommend taking a blood pressure medication to keep levels steady. Be sure to follow the directions provided for taking the medications to ensure you’re getting the most benefit from them.
With Measure Up/Pressure Down®, Americans are encouraged to measure, monitor and maintain their blood pressure levels to stay in control of this health condition. If you don’t know your blood pressure levels and want more information to determine if you might be at risk for high blood pressure, visit MeasureUpPressureDown.com. Or learn more about blood pressure on Facebook or Twitter.
Dr. Jerry Penso is president of the American Medical Group Foundation and chief medical and quality officer of the American Medical Group Association.