Did you know that in November of last year, the American Heart Association changed the guidelines for high blood pressure for the first time in 14 years? With these changes, nearly half of all adults in the United States — including many younger adults — are now considered to have elevated blood pressure. So, if the last time you had your blood pressure checked was a year ago or more, you may have high blood pressure and not realize it.
“High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a more than what we see in a blood pressure device,” said Dr. Maria Carolina Delgado-Lelievre, a specialist at the new Hypertension and Cardiovascular Prevention Program at the University of Miami Health System. “By decreasing the threshold for hypertension with these new guidelines, we are creating awareness of this disease and its damage early in a patient’s life. That way, we can start early prevention and intervention. Why is this so important? Hypertension is the number one risk for heart attack and strokes, the leading causes of death in United States.”
What do your numbers mean?
“Hypertension is not a disease that just shows up,” explained Dr. Delgado-Lelievre. “It starts early in childhood as a progressive malfunction of your arteries (vasculature) that, over time, can be detected as elevated blood pressure numbers.”
Knowing your blood pressure numbers and understanding what they reveal about your overall health is important because high blood pressure can lead to complications including heart attack or heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, aneurysms, eye damage and cognitive impairments. This condition is when blood flows through the arteries with a pressure higher than what’s safe and normal. If your blood pressure is consistently high, the condition can weaken and damage your blood vessels.
When you measure your blood pressure, the numbers reveal your systolic pressure (while the heart is pumping blood) and diastolic pressure (while the heart rests between beats). The numbers are presented like a fraction with systolic “over” diastolic.
To provide care to at-risk populations through early detection and diverse interventions, Dr. Delgado-Lelievre recently opened a hypertension clinic at UHealth Tower. To schedule an appointment, call 305-243-5554.
The American Heart Association’s new blood pressure guidelines replace the previous version called JNC7:
Normal blood pressure is still considered to be less than 120 systolic over less than 80 diastolic (or 120/80 mm Hg). But, a systolic reading between 130 and 139, or a diastolic reading between 80 and 89, is now considered to be Stage 1 High Blood Pressure.
If your blood pressure typically falls within the elevated range, it can progress to hypertension and should be taken seriously. If your numbers fall within the high blood pressure ranges, this is a wake-up call and it’s time to make lifestyle changes to positively impact your blood pressure and overall health. Your doctor can determine if medication (or a change to your current blood pressure medication) is also needed to bring your numbers into the normal range.
How to lower your blood pressure
It’s not surprising that healthy behaviors and habits that are good for your whole body, your brain and your waistline are also good for your heart.
These are the most effective, non-pharmaceutical ways to lower your blood pressure:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Reduce sugar and sodium
- Avoid tobacco use
- Drink alcohol in moderation
- Drink more water
- Reduce emotional/mental stress
- Get more sleep
Other medical causes and hereditary factors may increase your risk for elevated blood pressure.
“Ask yourself who in your family has high blood pressure or takes blood pressure medications,” Dr. Delgado-Lelievre recommends. “If just one grandparent has a history of hypertension, the likelihood is that the next generations will carry the risk and become hypertensive in the future.
“Make measuring your blood pressure a family activity. If you, your kids or a family member starts showing systolic blood pressure at or above 120, recognize that it’s time to go to the physician. Understand that high blood pressure is an indicator of a systemic disease that, if left untreated, will put you at risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Even if you’re not concerned about your heart health, the only way to rule out or diagnosis dangerously high blood pressure is to regularly measure and evaluate your numbers.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.