Question: I hear you can have high blood pressure and have virtually no signs or symptoms. I have a family history of high blood pressure and was wondering how would I know if I have this? And if I do have high blood pressure, how is it controlled or treated?
Answer: Most people don't know they have hypertension until they have their blood pressure checked by their doctor. That's why it's called the silent killer. If you don't get your blood pressure under control, it can damage the small blood vessels in your body, leading to stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and even blindness.
Your doctor will check your blood pressure as part of your annual physical exam. In between visits, you can have it checked at blood pressure machines found in most pharmacies and grocery stores. If you have a home blood pressure monitor, take it with you on your next visit to the doctor so your healthcare provider can check to see if you are using it correctly and it's giving you an accurate reading.
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It used to be 120 over 60 was considered normal blood pressure. With the new recommendations, your blood pressure can run a little higher as you get older. But if you're getting a reading of 140 over 80 or higher, it's time to see a physician.
Before discussing medication, I generally ask patients to avoid caffeine and nicotine and watch their salt intake for several weeks, then come back in for a recheck.
If it's still high, I encourage them to make lifestyle changes and get their weight down. Dropping five to ten pounds can make a significant difference in your blood pressure.
Because caffeine can cause vasoconstriction, or the narrowing of blood vessels, you should limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee a day. Here in the South, sweet tea is an even bigger culprit. Not only does it contain caffeine, it can have more calories than coffee.
Along with eating a healthier diet, I also recommend exercising regularly. The heart is a muscle like any other muscle in your body. If you don't exercise it, it doesn't work as well. And, of course, the more you exercise, the more calories you burn.
If you can't control your blood pressure with lifestyle changes, medication may be required. The medication that is prescribed is patient specific, depending on your age, blood sugar and cholesterol levels and any other medical problems you may have. Your doctor may also want to get a cardiologist involved in your case.
While you may feel fine when you have high blood pressure, it's a dangerous condition that can cause serious health problems three or four years down the road. Fortunately, it can be easily treated.
Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.
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