Blood pressure is the pressure of blood flowing through the walls of your arteries as they carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day depending on your activities, like eating, sleeping or exerting yourself. Your body temperature can also impact your blood pressure. Hypertension is the term used when your blood pressure is higher than normal or in a range where it can damage your heart and cause health problems if it continues to stay high.
In the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system, hypertension is the most common chronic condition. Hypertension puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half a million deaths in the U.S. in 2019 had hypertension as a primary or contributing cause. Hypertension can also contribute to other health problems such as heart failure, kidney disease and blindness. It is important to catch high blood pressure as early as possible to minimize its negative effects on the body. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, and a greater percentage of men (50%) have high blood pressure than women (44%). Only about 1 in 4 adults has their condition under control.
Monitor Your Blood Pressure
It is important to catch high blood pressure as early as possible to minimize its negative effects on the body.
Most health care screenings include a blood pressure check. Your health care provider will keep track of the readings in your medical records so that over time, the information is helpful in monitoring any changes. Blood pressure screenings are available at most pharmacies, and at-home screening can be done using your own machine that you can purchase at a pharmacy or online.
The Correct Way to Measure Blood Pressure
Whether you’re getting it checked at the doctor’s office, pharmacy or checking it yourself at home, the CDC offers this checklist for getting an accurate blood pressure reading:
- Don’t eat or drink anything 30 minutes before you take your blood pressure.
- Empty your bladder before your reading.
- Sit in a comfortable chair with your back supported for at least five minutes before your reading.
- Put both feet flat on the ground and keep your legs uncrossed.
- Rest your arm with the cuff on a table at chest height.
- Make sure the blood pressure cuff is snug but not too tight. The cuff should be against your bare skin, not over clothing.
- Do not talk while your blood pressure is being measured.
Monitoring your blood pressure at home with your own machine is easy and safe. A member of your health care team or pharmacist can show you how to use the machine if you need help. The CDC offers this handy blood pressure log, which you can download and fill in, making it easy to share your readings with your doctor.
Tips to Prevent High Blood Pressure
No matter your age, you can take steps to help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. These tips from the CDC are a good place to begin, along with talking to your health care provider.
- Eat a Healthy Diet – Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat a variety of foods rich in potassium, fiber and protein and lower in salt (sodium) and saturated fat. Include fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils, and limit foods that are high in saturated fat, and sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets.
- Stay at a Healthy Weight – Being overweight or obese increases your risk for high blood pressure. Your health care team can help you learn about ways to reach a healthy weight, including choosing healthy foods and getting regular physical activity.
- Be Physically Active – Physical activity can help keep you at a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. Adults should get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or bicycling, every week, or about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
- Don’t Smoke – Smoking raises your blood pressure and puts you at higher risk for heart attack and stroke. If you smoke, your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit. Check out the CDC’s smoking and tobacco use website to learn more.
- Limit Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can raise your blood pressure. Men should have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day, and women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
- Sleep Well – Getting enough sleep is important to your overall well-being. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke.
Treatments and Tips for Managing Blood Pressure
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor has probably prescribed medication for you to take regularly to help lower your blood pressure. The same lifestyle changes listed above for preventing high blood pressure are also recommended for managing and improving the condition. Taking your medication, eating healthier, getting enough exercise and proper rest can help improve your quality of life. Your doctor will also closely monitor your treatment with frequent blood pressure checks, and adjust the medication as necessary to find the right dose for you. Discuss your treatment plan on a regular basis and bring a list of questions to your appointments.