By Dr. Colleen Townsend, Special to the Daily Republic
High blood pressure affects nearly 50% of the U.S. adult population and contributes to more than 500,000 deaths annually. High blood pressure rates vary by region in the U.S., with a higher rate of illness in the Southeast states; hypertension has a significant impact in Solano County.
Only about 25% of people with hypertension have their blood pressure under control.
Blood pressure is the force of blood as it flows through arteries and veins and varies throughout the day. Many factors affect the blood pressure; activity, stress or excitement. When blood pressure is consistently too high, this increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney and eye disease.
High blood pressure may be noted at medical visits but often does not have symptoms nor may not make one feel sick until the blood pressure has been high for a long time.
There are two numbers that are measured for a blood pressure reading. The top number is the systolic blood pressure and is the pressure of blood flow when the heart beats or the muscles of the heart contract, causing a heartbeat. The lower number or diastolic blood pressure is the pressure of blood flow between beats when the heart fills. A normal blood pressure is less than or equal to 120/80. It is important that both of these measure at the target to avoid complications of high blood pressure or hypertension.
Blood pressure that is consistently over 140/90 increases the risk for heart disease and stroke. For people with other chronic illnesses like diabetes, a blood pressure reading over 130/90 may be considered hypertension. The goal of treatment for people with hypertension is to lower the blood pressure as close to 120/80 as possible.
Many factors contribute to developing high blood pressure. Race can be a risk factor in developing high blood pressure. Hypertension is more common and occurs at a younger age in Black people. And, serious complications are more common in Black people. Other important risks to develop hypertension include smoking, family history of hypertension, being overweight or obese and low exercise or activity rates. Race is also a risk factor for hypertension. Tobacco use (smoking, vaping or chewing) increases the risk for hypertension. Drinking alcohol and eating too much sodium (or salt) or not enough potassium in the diet also contributes to high blood pressure.
Hypertension is treated with a combination of interventions that will look at changes in diet, increasing activity, limiting weight gain and blood pressure medications. Medical providers work with individuals to achieve the target blood pressure by using all of these techniques, which lower blood pressure and decrease the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
A key part of hypertension control is to know your blood pressure. Medical providers check the blood pressure at most office visits. However, since high blood pressure is often “silent” or doesn’t have any symptoms, home monitoring allows one to manage blood pressure more effectively. Home blood pressure checks allow for more frequent and regular blood pressure measurements. Abnormal measures can be reported to your to the medical provider and adjustment can be made to your treatment plan.
Talk with your medical provider about hypertension and blood pressure control. If you have risks for hypertension, consider home blood pressure monitoring and work with your medical provider to address risk factors that can be improved.
Dr. Colleen Townsend is with Partnership HealthPlan of California, a member of the Solano Coalition for Better Health.