Treating, Preventing High Blood Pressure: Too Many are Still Unaware of These Vital Facts

Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

It bears repeating, especially during American Heart Month, that preventing or treating high blood pressure is a vital component of staying healthy. Nonetheless, nearly half of U.S. adults – nearly 125 million – have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and nearly 40 percent of them don’t know they have the condition, states the American Heart Association. 

Hypertension can damage and weaken arteries, raising the risk of heart attack, stroke and other problems. The condition can develop slowly over time and can be related to more than one underlying cause. Many people are also unaware that the condition can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes, including proper nutrition, weight management and regular exercise.

Ian Del Conde, M.D., a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

In an era when digital devices are easily accessible and affordable to measure one’s blood pressure, everyone should know if they are hypertensive, said Ian Del Conde, M.D., a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at Baptist Health Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. Blood pressure is considered high in teens and adults when the systolic, or top number, is at least 130 mmHg, or the diastolic, or bottom number, is 80 mmHg or more.

“Automated blood pressure monitors are inexpensive and readily available,” said Dr. Del Conde. “Knowing your blood pressure is as important as knowing how much money you have in the bank or how much gas you have in your car. Everyone should monitor their blood pressure at home.  It does not need to be a stressful experience.”

Hypertensive individuals are encouraged to monitor their blood pressure at home. Once you’ve purchased a BP monitor, you can bring it to your next doctor appointment. Your physician can check to see that you are using it correctly and getting the same results as the monitor in the office.

To lower blood pressure or prevent high blood pressure, the recommendations are: eating a well-balanced diet that's low in salt, limiting alcohol consumption, staying physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, managing stress and taking any medication as prescribed for hypertension.

Some patients with high blood pressure don’t fully understand the importance of lifestyle choices when it comes to controlling hypertension.

A recently published study found that practically everyone can lower their blood pressure by lowering their sodium intake (primarily from salt), even if they are currently on blood pressure-reducing drugs. The new study, published in JAMA, found that 72 percent of study participants experienced a lowering of their systolic blood pressure on the low-sodium diet compared with their usual diet.

“Sodium (or salt) intake has been well-established to have an impact on blood pressure,” said Dr. Del Conde. “Some individuals have a more salt-sensitive high blood pressure and others. Having said that, anyone with high blood pressure should get used to not adding additional salt to food.”

What’s the biggest misconception that people have about taking their blood pressure? 

Dr. Del Conde: “Some of the biggest misconceptions include: Blood pressure can only be taken by a healthcare professional; only manual blood pressure measurements are reliable; blood pressure readings taken with an electronic machine are not reliable.”

Taking Your Blood Pressure at Home

Here are key tips for using your blood pressure monitor properly at home, according to the American Heart Association:

Be still and calm (no caffeine or exercising before taking BP). That means don’t smoke, drink caffeinated beverages or exercise within 30 minutes before measuring your blood pressure.

Empty your bladder and ensure at least 5 minutes of quiet rest before measurements.

Sit properly with your back straight and supported. Best option is a chair, rather than a sofa. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your legs should not be crossed. Your arm should be supported on a flat surface (such as a table) with the upper arm at heart level. Make sure the bottom of the cuff is placed directly above the bend of the elbow. Check your monitor’s instructions for an illustration or have your healthcare provider show you how.

Measure at the same time every day. It’s important to take the readings at the same time each day, even if you’re taking your blood pressure more than once a day as is recommended. Ideally, take your readings daily beginning two weeks after a change in treatment and during the week before your next appointment.

Take multiple readings throughout the day, and record the results. Each time you measure, take two or three readings one minute apart and record the results. If your monitor has built-in memory to store your readings, take it with you to your appointments. Some monitors may also allow you to upload your readings to a secure website after you register your profile.

Don’t take the measurement over clothes. The cuff must be fitted over your arm, touching the skin.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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