You know the drill. You’re in your physician’s office and one of the first things that happens is someone checks your blood pressure. While you may be familiar with this simple test, you may not understand why your blood pressure is so important.
“Knowing your blood pressure is a critical part of managing your health,” says Britt Gayle, MD, a family practice physician at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. “If it’s high and you don’t know it, or if it goes uncontrolled, you may be at greater risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, or other serious conditions.”
As blood moves through the arteries, it puts pressure on the artery walls. This pressure goes up and down depending on several things, including physical activity, diet, and medication. A person has high blood pressure or hypertension when the pressure remains elevated over a period of time.
When the pressure is too high, the arteries that carry the blood through your body can be damaged, or the pressure can make your heart work too hard and damage it. But many people don’t know they have high blood pressure until something bad happens.
“Most people don’t realize that hypertension can cause damage, even when they can’t feel anything,” explains Dr. Gayle. “The only way to know your blood pressure is high is to have it checked. Having it checked regularly will help you and your healthcare provider manage it if it is too high.”
Experts consider optimal blood pressure to be lower than 120/80. Blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher indicate hypertension.
“Blood pressure tends to rise with age,” Dr. Gayle notes. “In addition, people who are obese, who have certain medical problems such as diabetes, or who take certain medications, are also at risk.”
There are things you can do to prevent and/or control high blood pressure:
“Blood pressure readings can be confusing,” adds Dr. Gayle. “They don’t have to be. Talk to your healthcare provider. Knowing your numbers and what they mean is an important step toward staying healthy.”
For a physician referral, please call 877-74-HEART (43278).
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
9000 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237
If you do not have a primary care physician call 443-777-8300.