Blood pressure (BP) is defined as the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries, and is measured via two numbers. The top number, also called the systolic, refers to the pressure when the heart is contracting, while the bottom number (or diastolic number) refers to the pressure exerted when the heart is relaxed, between beats. The chart below breaks down blood pressure into different stages based on what your numbers are. For example, if your BP is measured at 128/84, you will be in the prehypertension stage.
|120 or below||80 or below||Normal|
|140-159||90-99||Stage 1 Hypertension|
|160 or above||100 or above||Stage 2 Hypertension|
Bear in mind that just one BP reading is not an accurate representation. BP is very dynamic; it can vary greatly over the span of just a few minutes, and is subject to the influence of your environment. The foods you eat, the time of day and your emotional state all contribute to your blood pressure at any given moment. The best gauge of your BP is to consistently measure it over time. A good time to measure is as soon as you wake up in the morning, as this reading will provide as close to a true resting rate as you can get.
If you do begin to regularly monitor your BP, be sure to record it. You can then show your records to your doctor so they will have a better idea of what your overall BP is, instead of only relying on the one they take when you visit them. Also, try to approximate the same conditions each time you take it. For example, if you take it in the morning, always do so before drinking your coffee (which you should do anyway, as caffeine can cause your BP to rise).
A reading of 120/80 or below puts you in the normal stage, which is where you should aim to stay. However, this is not as easy as it seems. Several factors determine your blood pressure, and as you age, your BP usually goes up as well if you don’t take the proper steps. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and exercising are all factors that you can control to help manage your BP. The one factor that is out of your hand is genetics. Even people who lead a healthy lifestyle can still have high BP.
If you’re doing all the right things and still have high BP, your doctor may want you to start taking medications to help. There are several types of medications available to treat hypertension. Like any medicine, there is the possibility of unwanted side effects, which leads us to an alternative, which is…
The DASH Diet
The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a clinically proven method to help lower your BP, without the use of drugs. You also get the added benefits of weight loss (and for those who are already at a healthy weight, it will help you stay there). A combination of healthy eating, such as the DASH Diet, along with regular physical activity, is a surefire way to lower your BP, shed weight and become a healthier you. For more information visit www.dashdiet.org.
Hypertension is also known as the ‘silent killer’ since it rarely presents symptoms. If untreated, it can cause lasting damage to the heart and increase your risk of heart disease in the future. If you don’t regularly monitor your BP, create a plan to start monitoring it so you know if you are at risk for hypertension. Automatic BP cuffs for home use are available at many drug stores and can be purchased online as well.