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By Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D.
As blood flows through your body, it pushes against the walls of your arteries, creating pressure. Your blood pressure is measured through two numbers: systolic and diastolic. A blood pressure reading of 120 over 80 mm Hg or lower is considered a normal, healthy range.
While blood pressure often rises and falls throughout the day, ongoing high blood pressure can cause long-term damage. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined by the American Heart Association as 140 over 90 mm Hg or higher, on a consistent basis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of U.S. adults have hypertension, but only a quarter of them have it under control. It’s expensive, too: annual hypertension costs in the U.S. add up to more than $131 billion.
Hypertension is often referred to as a “silent killer” because it usually has no symptoms; the only way to know if you have it is through blood pressure measurement. Hypertension increases your risk for heart disease and stroke – two of the leading causes of death in the United States. The CDC reports nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. each year include hypertension as a primary or contributing cause.
What can you do? Most importantly, know your numbers. It’s important to visit your primary care physician on a regular basis to have your blood pressure monitored. Your doctor may recommend self-monitoring with a home blood pressure cuff. If you’re diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor will put you on a treatment plan that includes lifestyle modifications and possibly medication.
The bad news: hypertension is serious and life threatening. The good news: it’s treatable and manageable. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Talk to your doctor about your numbers and what you can do to prevent or treat high blood pressure.
Joseph R. Cunningham, M.D. is the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.
(For more Office Visit columns by Dr. Cunningham, visit The Journal Record.)
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