January 6, 2021
American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association guidelines define high blood pressure as 130/80. This means almost half of U.S. adults are considered to have high blood pressure, or hypertension, placing them at elevated risk for heart attack and stroke. The good news is you can reduce your risk by making simple lifestyle changes and monitoring your blood pressure at home.
Let’s take a closer look at what it all means for you.
What Do Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?
Blood pressure is determined by two numbers. The top number, called systolic, represents the pressure of blood as it is pumped out of the heart. The bottom number, called the diastolic, represents the pressure during the time the heart relaxes and fills up for the next beat.
A Look At The Guidelines
Previous guidelines defined high blood pressure, or Stage 1 hypertension, as greater than 140/90.
Under the current guidelines:
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
- Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
The hope is that most people who now have high blood pressure will make lifestyle changes rather than take medication. Medication is only recommended for people with Stage 1 hypertension who have certain additional risk factors, including diabetes, kidney disease, or having already had a heart attack or stroke.
How can I lower my blood pressure without medications?
There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to control your blood pressure:
- Reduce your salt intake. Avoid deli meats and canned foods, and be aware that most restaurant foods have high salt content.
- Exercise. Moderate exercise–simply walking briskly for 35 minutes per day–has been shown to lower blood pressure.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- If you smoke, quit. Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Be aware that some medications (decongestants, steroids, oral contraceptives) can raise blood pressure.
- Monitor your blood pressure at home.
Checking Blood Pressure At Home
White coat hypertension, or high blood pressure that occurs in medical settings, is a real phenomenon. That’s why the new guidelines recommend monitoring your blood pressure at home.
If you take medication or were recently diagnosed with hypertension, check once or twice a day. If you don’t have high blood pressure, it’s still a good idea to monitor about once a month.
Choosing The Right Blood Pressure Cuff
Automated blood pressure cuffs provide systolic and diastolic pressure numbers, along with your heart rate. These are available at pharmacies and don’t need to be expensive to be reliable. Ask your pharmacist what is right for you.
Cuffs that go on the wrist are not reliable. Choose an arm cuff that is comfortable, and have it fitted at the pharmacy. A cuff that is too small will give a falsely elevated reading. You might want to consider a cuff that syncs to your smartphone for easy documentation and tracking.
When you are ready to take your blood pressure reading, sit quietly in a chair for two or three minutes. Don’t talk or move during the actual reading.
Communicate With Your Doctor
Your health-care provider is key in helping you manage your blood pressure. Stay in touch and report any trends you notice in your self-monitoring. Your doctor can determine the most appropriate way to both prevent and manage high blood pressure.