Ask The Docs: Your Questions Answered About Hypertension

By Guest Editor on Jan 9, 2017

February marks American Heart Month, which is a great time to commit to making small changes in our lifestyle, resulting in a lifetime of better heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. We talked to Dr. Keith Boman and Dr. Jay Hsu with WellHealth Medical Group to learn more about measuring blood pressure and how to prevent hypertension.

CareConnection: How is blood pressure measured?

Dr. Hsu: Blood pressure is simply the pressure of the blood pushing against the walls of the artery. We measure the pushing force against the walls of the artery by using a blood pressure cuff around the artery of the arm or leg, depending on the patient. The cuff allows us to measure the systolic and diastolic pressures.

CareConnection: What does systolic and diastolic mean?

Dr. Hsu: When your blood pressure is measured, you will notice there is a top number and bottom number. For example, you may see your provider write down that your blood pressure is 120/80, verbally reported as 120 over 80. The top number is the systolic pressure, which represents the pressure of the wave of blood pushing against the walls of the artery. This wave is generated by the heart pushing blood out of the heart into the arteries of the body, which travels in pulsing waves. After the wave leaves a section of the artery, the artery walls relax, and this is the diastolic pressure.

CareConnection: What is considered normal, pre-hypertension and hypertension?

Dr. Hsu: Less than 120/80 is normal blood pressure.  Between 120-140 systolic or 80-89 diastolic is considered pre-hypertension.  Hypertension is greater than 140 systolic or greater than 90 diastolic.

CareConnection: What are health problems associated with hypertension?

Dr. Hsu: Hypertension adds to the risk for heart disease and heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage, aneurysm formation, development of a weak heart and dementia.

CareConnection: How can I lower my blood pressure?  

Dr. Hsu: The first step is to assess your lifestyle choices, including your diet and sodium intake, as well as your activity level. Obesity also results in higher blood pressure readings, along with high cholesterol and blood sugar problems. Stress, tobacco use, alcohol and sleep apnea are also contributors to hypertension. There are medications available to help lower blood pressure readings. If you find that your blood pressure is elevated, first start by talking with your physician to confirm the diagnosis. Together you create a treatment plan that is personalized for your situation.

CareConnection: What are common side effects of high blood pressure medication?

Dr. Boman: Most medication is dose-related: higher doses leads to more side effects. Although there are many common side effects, the most common are fatigue, light headedness and some peripheral swelling.

CareConnection: How do I know if I have high blood pressure? 

Dr. Boman: High blood pressure is often called the silent killer and is often associated with few or no symptoms. There are some rare symptoms that can include dizziness, headaches, and nosebleeds, but these symptoms are usually associated with severe hypertension. Generally, 140/90 is considered mildly hypertensive, but the best way to know for certain is to consult your physician, or visit one of the many blood pressure stations around your community for a free blood pressure check.