Blood pressure refers to the pressure your blood places on the inner walls of your arteries, which are the vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart out to the other organs in the body. Blood pressure is defined by two separate measurements. The systolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts (or beats) and the diastolic pressure is the pressure during the relaxation of the arteries between heart beats. We typically report these as the systolic pressure over the diastolic pressure (120/80 for instance).
More often than not, the problem is high blood pressure, or hypertension in medical terms. Untreated high blood pressure increases the strain on the heart and arteries and eventually causes damage to your body's organs. It also increases the risk of having a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, or kidney failure. According to a recent study, hypertension is controlled in only about 25% of people with the disease.
Hypertension is a common health problem. In the US, approximately 25% of the overall population has hypertension. It is more common as people grow older: among folks over age 60 years, hypertension occurs in 65 percent of African-American men, 80 percent of African-American women, 55 percent of white men, and 65 percent of white women. Unfortunately, there are typically no symptoms of this silent killer so many people with the disease do not know they have it. This is why we check your blood pressure at every doctor’s visit even if you’re just in for a runny nose or sprained ankle: we want to catch this chronic condition as soon as it hits and act early to prevent complications.
Next week I will discuss what specific blood pressures warrant this diagnosis, things you can do to lessen the chances of having hypertension, as well as the ways we treat it by lowering your blood pressure.
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*** Dr. Matthew Bogard, Iowa doctor, is an emergency medicine doctor primarily at the Lucas County Health Center in Chariton, Iowa. Presently, he is Board Certified in Family Medicine by the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons and the American Academy of Family Physicians.