Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a silent but potentially life-threatening condition. It affects millions of people worldwide and is a major risk factor for serious health issues like heart disease, stroke and kidney problems. While some individuals with hypertension experience noticeable symptoms, many others are completely unaware that they have this condition because they don’t exhibit any obvious signs, have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
“Many individuals with elevated blood pressure are asymptomatic and can easily underestimate the seriousness of their condition,” says Dr. Christopher Molitor, family medicine physician at Advocate Health Care. “I have had patients in my office with a 150-160 blood pressure but feel perfectly fine.”
This is a concern because most people base their health on how they feel, and if they feel healthy, this makes them reluctant to seek medical assistance. But often high blood pressure is silently harming our bodies even when we appear to be in good health. This phenomenon generally occurs because hypertension develops over time, often because of lifestyle choices, genetics or underlying medical conditions.
What is hypertension?
“One way to think about hypertension is comparing blood vessels to plumbing pipes,” says Dr. Molitor. “Over time, high blood pressure can damage blood vessels because they are under a higher pressure than they were made to sustain. Because it is gradual, your body might become accustomed to the rising blood pressure and most of the time may not feel anything.”
However, there are some people who might feel symptoms like headaches, pressure, or feel anxious, restless or unsettled. If not treated or well managed, serious hypertension risks or symptoms may immerge like vision loss, sexual dysfunction, cognitive decline, breathing issues or chest pain. If you feel the latter symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately. Or, if you are unsure or not constantly having severe symptoms contact your primary care doctor right away.
The only way to know if you have hypertension is by checking and monitoring your blood pressure regularly. By doing so, you can identify and treat hypertension at an earlier stage.
What’s considered a healthy blood pressure?
“Having blood pressure under 130/80 is a good standard,” says Dr. Molitor. “Though this goal can fluctuate depending on a patient’s age or health conditions. Most studies share that an individual has better cardiovascular health if their blood pressure is maintained under this level.”
While a single blood pressure measurement doesn’t provide the complete picture, consistently tracking blood pressure over time can uncover trends and abnormalities that might otherwise go unnoticed. One example of this may be noticing a change in your blood pressure after starting a new medication.
“Tracking your blood pressure can be done on an app on your phone, an excel spreadsheet or just handwritten on paper. It’s an opportunity to take ownership of your health based on what will work best for you.”
Where can you get a blood pressure reading?
Accurate and reliable readings can be obtained through routine check-ups at medical facilities, pharmacies, big box stores, work events, health clinics, when giving blood or by using home blood pressure monitors — though wrist monitors can be less accurate. You can typically purchase a reliable blood pressure monitor for $25-30.
Understanding your blood pressure reading
Consulting with health care professionals can help you gain a comprehensive understanding of your health by assessing the results of blood pressure readings in the context of medical history, family history and lifestyle factors. Seeking medical advice about blood pressure management can provide valuable insight into the most effective strategies for maintaining optimal health.
“Your primary care provider is your coach, and together we work out a treatment plan that works best for you and your lifestyle,” says Dr. Molitor.
How can you lower your blood pressure?
Adopting a healthy lifestyle also plays a crucial role in managing or preventing hypertension. Incorporating regular exercise, maintaining a balanced diet, limiting sodium intake, getting sleep apnea treatment and managing stress levels all contribute to managing blood pressure effectively.
“It’s not uncommon for patients to get off blood pressure medications by making lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Molitor. “Not everyone can get off their medications due to other medical conditions, but sometimes they can lessen the amount they take. It is always a happy moment for my patient and I when they can get off a medication due to eating healthy, exercising and losing weight.”
Want to learn more about your risk for heart disease? Take a free online quiz to learn more.
This article originally appeared on health enews.