Checking blood pressure is a normal part of most visits to your doctor’s office, but many patients don’t understand what the numbers mean from a medical and health perspective. It’s important to understand the basics of blood pressure, especially as we age, since high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, kidney disease and stroke, contributing to more than 275,000 deaths each year.
Blood pressure is a measurement of the forward thrust of blood against artery walls produced when the heart pumps blood to the rest of the body. It is recorded as two numbers, written as a ratio with the top number (systolic) being the higher number and measuring the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic) is the lower number and measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats when the heart muscle is resting and refilling with blood.
The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC7), supported by the National Institutes of Health, divides blood pressure into four categories, depending on both diastolic and systolic numbers.
View the categories and see where your own numbers fall.
I recommend patients have their blood pressure checked annually and possibly more often if they have borderline high or high blood pressure. Follow these guidelines to keep blood pressure under control:
- Take blood pressure medications as prescribed.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce sodium intake.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain an appropriate body weight.
I encourage everyone to be the captain of their own health care ship. To learn more, Hebrew SeniorLife offers programs with the Healthy Living Center of Excellence in partnership with Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc.
For more information about evidence-based approaches to managing your health care, contact Amanda Aprea (671-363-8702). If you have concerns about your blood pressure or other medical issues, contact your medical professional.