Why You Need Your Blood Pressure Checked
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. You may have this dangerous condition and not know it. Learn why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked.
Joyce, 55, thought she was healthy. She was in the prime of her life and felt fine.
Then Joyce had a heart attack. She was lucky to survive. How could this have happened to a seemingly healthy middle-aged woman?
Her doctor said she suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure), the “silent killer.” This likely contributed to her heart attack. Had Joyce been tested for high blood pressure earlier, it could have been treated, and her heart attack may have been prevented.
The dangers of high blood pressure
Joyce’s case isn’t rare. One in three adults has high blood pressure. And, 30 percent of people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it. This is because high blood pressure has no symptoms. So you could have it and feel fine.
Blood pressure measures the force of blood that travels through your arteries. Readings are recorded as a fraction, with systolic blood pressure over diastolic blood pressure. For example: 120/80 mm Hg or “120 over 80.” It is defined by two numbers:
- Systolic pressure (top number) is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
- Diastolic pressure (bottom number) is the pressure between heartbeats.
If your blood pressure is too high, it’s a risk factor for serious medical problems, such as:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
The higher your blood pressure is, and the longer it stays untreated, the greater your risk for these problems.
How will I know if I have high blood pressure?
The only way to know you have high blood pressure is to get checked by your doctor.
High blood pressure is categorized as follows:
|Category||Systolic pressure (mm Hg)||Diastolic pressure (mm Hg)|
|Normal||Less than 120||and||Less than 80|
|160 or higher||or||100 or higher|
Your doctor will diagnose you with high blood pressure after you have had at least two high blood pressure readings. High blood pressure is treated through lifestyle changes and, often, medication.
How often should I have my blood pressure checked?
The U.S. Prevention Task Force (USPTF), Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7) and other medical authorities recommend that all adults be screened for high blood pressure regularly:
- If your blood pressure is found to be normal, you should get tested at least every two years.
- If you have prehypertension, you should be tested at least each year.
Your doctor may have more specific testing suggestions for you based on your personal risk factors.
Who is at risk?
No one is immune to high blood pressure. Experts are not sure of what causes it. But they do know that certain factors raise your risk. Some risk factors can be managed, while others are beyond your control.
The following controllable factors are linked with high blood pressure:
- Being overweight. High blood pressure risk is greatest for people who are obese – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Smoking. If you smoke, quit.
- Not exercising. To cut your risk, make physical activity a habit. Always check with your doctor first before you increase your activity level.
- Drinking too much alcohol. If you choose to drink, you should limit the amount to no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
- Consuming too much salt (sodium). Limit your sodium intake.
- Stress. Try to eliminate stressors from your life.
- Having other medical conditions. If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or kidney disease, for example, you have a greater risk for high blood pressure. Manage these conditions well to reduce your risk.
Factors out of your control include:
- Age. Your risk of developing high blood pressure rises as you age. You’re most likely to get high blood pressure after age 35.
- Sex. Up to age 45, men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women. Between ages 45 and 54, men and women are equally at risk. After age 55, women have a greater chance.
- Family history. High blood pressure can be hereditary. Just because you have a family history, though, does not mean you are sure to get high blood pressure too.
- Race. African Americans get high blood pressure more often than whites. High blood pressure also tends to be more severe and comes on at a younger age in African Americans than in whites.