Understanding the Risks of High Blood Pressure

You know the drill. You're in your physician's office and one of the first things that happens is someone checks your blood pressure. While you may be familiar with this simple test, you may not understand why your blood pressure is so important.

“Knowing your blood pressure is a critical part of managing your health,” says Waiel Samara, MD, a primary care physician at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. “If it’s high and you don’t know it, or if it goes uncontrolled, you may be at greater risk for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, or other serious conditions.”

High blood pressure—also known as hypertension—can damage the arteries that carry the blood through your body. As blood moves through the arteries, it puts pressure on the artery walls. This pressure goes up and down depending on several things, including physical activity, diet, and medication.

A person has high blood pressure or hypertension when the pressure remains elevated over a period of time. When the pressure is too high, arteries can become clogged and burst. But many people don’t know they have high blood pressure until something bad happens.

“Most people don’t realize that they can’t feel hypertension,” explains Dr. Samara. “The only way to know your blood pressure is to have it checked. Having it checked regularly will help you and your healthcare provider manage it if you have hypertension.”

Experts consider optimal blood pressure to be lower than 120/80. Blood pressure readings of 130/80 or higher indicate hypertension.

“Blood pressure tends to rise with age,” Dr. Samara notes. “In addition, people who are obese, who have certain medical problems such as diabetes, or who take certain medications, are also at risk.”

There are things you can do to prevent and control high blood pressure:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
  • Watch your salt and sodium intake
  • Take your medications as prescribed

“Blood pressure readings can be confusing,” adds Dr. Samara. “They don’t have to be. Talk to your healthcare provider. Knowing your numbers and what they mean is an important step toward staying healthy.”

For a physician referral or to request a free blood pressure recorder card, call 410-248-8322.

This article appeared in the winter 2018 issue of Destination: Good HealthRead more articles from this issue.

Waiel Samara, MD

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