What does my blood pressure mean?

Shot of an unrecognizable male doctor checking the blood pressure of a patient while being seated inside of a hospital during the dayIs there a reason why our practitioners check our blood pressure at every visit regardless of the cause? Or is it just a routine protocol that has little effect on our health?

There is unfortunately a very good reason. High blood pressure, also termed hypertension, is called the “silent killer” because it often causes no obvious signs or symptoms until it is too late. Nearly half of adults have high blood pressure, although many have no idea because there are no symptoms.

How well do most of us understand our blood pressure, the numbers and the effects?

Blood pressure is literally the strength or pressure of blood moving through blood vessels. There are definite and potentially deadly concerns if that pressure is too high.

People should have their blood pressure tested and understand the results, according to the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association site also provides a chart of the ranges and when people should be concerned about their blood pressure.

Your doctor will help you understand the numbers and work with you to determine the best way to move forward. You should discuss possible high or low blood pressure with your physician. If your hypertension does not get treated, it could result in stroke, heart attack or other health problems.

Your blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The first number is the systolic blood pressure, which “indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats,” according to the American Heart Association. The second number is the diastolic blood pressure indicating “how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.”

A normal level is considered 120/80.

Elevated levels of either the systolic blood pressure or diastolic blood pressure can lead to heart disease or a stroke. If either number is too high or too low, a practitioner should evaluate you.

People typically pay more attention to the systolic blood pressure number, which can be a major indicator of cardiovascular disease for those over 50. People’s systolic blood pressure typically increases with age “due to the increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term buildup of plaque and an increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease,” according to the Heart Association.

People can monitor their blood pressure at home with “an automatic, cuff-style, bicep (upper-arm) monitor” recommended by the American Heart Association.

Your blood pressure and heart rate or pulse, while both indicative of your health, are different. The American Heart Association outlines the differences here.

Your lifestyle choices and physical condition can be indicative of how likely you are to develop high blood pressure.

Some tips to maintain healthy blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more include:
• Eat a healthy diet low in salt
• Reduce your cholesterol intake
• Limit alcohol consumption
• Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
• Stop smoking and limit exposure to secondhand smoke

Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States and in the world, although death rates are decreasing, according to the American Heart Association.

Hopefully, with continued awareness and action on our part, those rates will continue to decline.

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About Ashley Iles, M.D.

Dr. Ashley Iles graduated from University of Louisville School of Medicine in 2015. Before returning to Louisville for the love of the city, she split her time in residency between Memphis, Tenn. and Birmingham, Ala. where she graduated from Cahaba Family Medicine Residency 2018. Currently, Dr. Iles is faculty and an assistant professor with the Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine, with a career focus on medical education, underserved populations and women's health. She loves to maintain a varied practice and likes to see patients of all ages. Dr. Iles is married to Matt, who is also a family medicine physician in the community.

All posts by Ashley Iles, M.D.