The heart’s job is to pump blood throughout the body. It does this when it “beats” which is really the heart squeezing and creating pressure that sends blood through the body in a web of blood vessels. When the force of blood pushing against blood vessels is higher than it is supposed to be, high blood pressure, or hypertension, is occurs. We recently caught up with Katherine Gergen Barnett, MD who shared important information about this silent, but dangerous disease.
Q. Why is it important to manage high blood pressure?
A. When a person’s blood pressure is too high, it means that all through the body there is pressure on blood vessels that is not supposed to be there. This increased pressure places people at higher risk for stroke, heart disease, and kidney issues, to name just a few. The good news is that high blood pressure can often be managed through a healthy lifestyle such as diet and exercise and, these risks can go away. In some cases, you will also need to take a medication for high blood pressure.
Q. Who is at risk for high blood pressure?
A. There are both genetic (inherited) and environmental (lifestyle) reasons people develop high blood pressure. People can affect their environmental risk factors by exercising, eating food that is low in salt, consuming fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, limiting alcohol, practicing stress reduction techniques, and not smoking.
Q. High blood pressure is sometimes called a silent disease. Why is that?
A. Normally, when we get sick, some part of us doesn’t feel well. But, with high blood pressure, people usually don’t feel any different. They are able to go about their normal day, participating in regular activities, and feel just fine. A person who doesn’t know they have a disease cannot manage it, which puts them at risk for having a more serious problem than if the disease had been managed.
Q. How often should blood pressure be checked?
A. An individual’s blood pressure will be taken every time they go to their primary care provider’s office. For some people, this is once a year at an annual physical and for others, it is more frequent. If your blood pressure is running high, your provider will recommend that you change your diet and increase your level of exercise. If these lifestyle changes do not lower your blood pressure, your provider may also recommend medication.
Q. How does medicine reduce blood pressure?
A. There are a number of kinds of blood pressure medication but all of them work to reduce the pressure on the body’s blood vessels. To determine which one is right for you, your provider will review your medical history and other medicines you are on, and then prescribe a medicine. This will need to be taken every day and your pressure will be checked regularly to ensure that the levels stay safe. Sometimes, by continuing healthy lifestyle choices, you can work to reduce the amount of medications you are on.