If I told you that one out of every three people on your street was going to be burglarized, you'd probably take steps to make sure your house wasn't an easy target. Unfortunately, millions of U.S. adults are putting their health at risk because they're not protecting themselves from a health thief called hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Blood pressure refers to the pressure inside the arteries. The top number is the pressure exerted against the arteries during the contraction of a heartbeat. The bottom number is the pressure exerted when the heart muscle is relaxed. Elevations in either reading mean there is more strain on the vessels than normal, which can lead to damage in the arteries and organs.
Although any reading above 140/90 is considered abnormal (hypertensive), the goal is to keep the number below 135/85. Blood pressures between those readings may indicate potential problems and should not be taken lightly. Significant elevations can actually cause catastrophic problems like stroke.
To help regulate your blood pressure, consider these tips:
Know your risk. Certain people are at increased risk for developing high blood pressure, including African Americans, older folks and people with a family history. If you belong to one of these groups, be vigilant.
Modify your lifestyle. Following a low-sodium diet, exercising regularly, controlling weight all improve blood pressure. In addition, smoking is very problematic.
Consult your physician. Medicine is the ultimate defense against an undesirable outcome, and the latest blood pressure medications have less severe side effects.
If you're otherwise healthy, having blood pressure check at the time of your annual physical is fine. If you have a history of high blood pressure, buy a home blood pressure monitor, it doesn't have to be as big as this one, but one you can take to your doctor to make sure it's calibrated, and check your own pressure every one to two months.