Heart Month: Preventing hypertension, 'the silent killer'

By Kristy Bleizeffer Feb 6, 2017

At nearly every visit to the doctor’s office, emergency room or intermediate care clinic, someone wraps a cuff around your arm. 

As it squeezes, your nurse watches the gauges and records them into your chart. But what do these readings mean? And why do health providers measure your blood pressure so often?

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“We call hypertension, or high blood pressure, ‘the silent killer.’ Most people won’t have any symptoms as the condition develops,” said Dr. Ketura Talbot, a primary care physician at Mesa Primary Care. “But as the pressure wears on your body over time, it puts you at a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, heart attack, damage to your kidneys and blindness.”

In fact, having high blood pressure is the No. 1 reason people visit the doctor, Dr. Talbot said. Here’s what you need to know:

Blood pressure is measured by two numbers, a top and a bottom. What do those numbers tell you?

Blood pressure is measured in two parts: Your systolic pressure is the highest pressure your blood vessels feel when your heart beats and pushes the blood out. Your diastolic is the lowest pressure, measured when your heart relaxes between beats.

The top number is the systolic pressure, and the lower number is the diastolic.

What is the ideal range for blood pressure?

We like to see a blood pressure of 120/80 or less. We’ve learned at the between 120 and 140 (systolic) increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Over 140 is what we call hypertension, or high blood pressure. We know that over the long term, having a blood pressure higher than 140 can lead to problems.

How often should a person get his blood pressure checked?

One of the reasons we check it every time you come in is because it’s silent. We want to catch it early and make a difference while we can. We recommend that you get it checked at least every year at your annual physical exam.

How can people prevent developing high blood pressure, and are there ways to control it if your pressure is already high?

People are always asking me what they can do to lower their blood pressure on their own. We know that blood pressure is very responsive to salt so we recommend a low salt diet, such as the DASH diet. It focuses on low fat, low sodium, lots of vegetables, fruits and nutritious foods to help control your blood pressure and bring it down.

We encourage losing weight. Even a loss of 5 to 10 pounds will lower your blood pressure. Losing 10 percent of your body weight will help lower your blood pressure as well. We recommend getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, every day.

Finally, we recommend that smokers quit smoking and drink in moderation. Smoking damages your blood vessels, making them more susceptible to hypertension.  Alcohol use can increase your blood pressure if overdone.

Is high blood pressure more a concern for a particular age group?

The recommendation is to be careful with blood pressure especially with anyone over 60.

One in three Americans will develop high blood pressure, while two thirds of American over 65 have high blood pressure. That puts them in this higher risk category for stroke, heart attack, heart disease and other complications.

Ketura Talbot M.D.

Dr. Ketura Talbot is a board-certified family physician at Mesa Primary Care. She attended medical school through the WWAMI program (an acronym for participating states – Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). She enjoys camping and getting outdoors, and is exploring photography and martial arts.

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