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High Pressure, High Risk: Are you monitoring your blood pressure?

Advance With MUSC Health
November 01, 2021
Jessica Hund, M.D.

If you develop high blood pressure, you risk suffering from its multiple negative effects, including a possible stroke or heart attack. In 2019, more than half a million deaths listed hypertension as a primary or contributing cause.

Nearly half of US adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension — which is defined as systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure greater than 90 mmHg — or are taking medication for hypertension. Each person has an individual blood pressure goal established between themselves and their doctor. That's why knowing your numbers is so important.

Thankfully, MUSC Health's Dr. Jessica Hund is here with advice on the effects of high blood pressure, how to monitor it and how to lower it.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that distributes oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Using your arteries as the channels for distribution, this vital force is propelled by the beat, or pumps, of your heart. A healthy blood pressure level equals a healthy heart and so much more.

Typically, blood pressure rises and falls throughout the day, but it can damage your heart if it remains high for too long.

Blood pressure and your brain

High blood pressure can affect your brain as well as your heart. The greater your blood pressure number, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood throughout your body, damaging not only your heart muscle but also your arteries. If blood doesn't easily flow through your arteries, that affects vital organs — like your brain, kidneys, and eyes — that depend on that nutrient-rich blood.

High blood pressure can also damage the blood vessels in areas of your brain responsible for cognition and memory, which can significantly increase your risk of Alzheimer s disease or other forms of dementia.

Signs of high blood pressure

A scary fact about hypertension is that it can be a symptomless "silent killer." That's why regular checkups with your primary care provider are so important.

What causes high blood pressure?

Though the precise causes are unknown, we do know of some things that can play a role in developing hypertension, such as:

  • Excess stress
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Too much salt in the diet
  • Too much alcohol consumption (more than one to two drinks a day)
  • Genetics
  • Older age

Little-known facts about high blood pressure

  • Studies show that people with high blood pressure are at a higher risk of developing dementia.
  • Hypertension can occur in young adults, too. In fact, one in four people aged 20 to 44 has high blood pressure.
  • One in three adults are unaware that they live with high blood pressure and, therefore, do not monitor and manage it. Only about one in four adults with hypertension have their condition under control.

How to lower your blood pressure

Lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure. Try some of the following:

  • Lower your sodium intake. What is one healthy eating habit you can focus on this week? Can you replace one cup of coffee with herbal tea once a day, or drink an extra glass of water, or add a new vegetable to your eating and drinking daily intake?
  • Be more physically active. What is the recommended amount of exercise? At least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day, at least five days a week. Try changing it up during the week with a mix of things like swimming, walking, gardening, biking or even housework.
  • Reduce stress. Stress management is easier said than done, so try taking one step at a time. What is one thing you can take off of your plate today that would help reduce stress? Can you make time for five minutes of mindfulness or meditation? Can you take three minutes to focus on breathing? Even petting an animal for 15 minutes is proven to reduce stress and lower your blood pressure by 10 percent!
  • Surround yourself with family and friends, and have some fun. This strategy is proven to lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, reducing stress and improving blood pressure.
  • Talk to your doctor about hypertension medications that could work for you.

Get a routine checkup

Routine checkups with your doctor are essential when it comes to the silent killer of hypertension. Schedule an appointment with an MUSC Health provider today. You can schedule online through MyChart or by calling 843-792-7000.

About the Author

Advance With MUSC Health

Keywords: MyChart, Heart Care, Healthy Aging