Are you below 140/90?
Facts about blood pressure that can save your life
If you’re not sure what 140/90 means, it’s time to learn more about your blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the arteries, and it rises and falls throughout the day. But when it stays elevated over time, it’s called high blood pressure or hypertension. High blood pressure means your heart is working too hard, greatly increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure and peripheral vascular diseases.
A killer that gives no warning
High blood pressure claims more lives than anything else in the United States — partly because people just don’t know they have it. The fatal stroke or heart attacks it can cause usually reveal no symptoms until it’s too late.
“We call hypertension the ‘silent killer.’ Only two thirds of people with true hypertension are identified, and only one third of those are actively controlling it,” says Dr. Brian Shortal, a cardiologist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital. “That adds up to millions who have it without knowing. So it’s very important to check blood pressure, even when you’re feeling well.”
Check pressure at age 21 — or sooner
According to Dr. Shortal, it’s difficult to name an age for when to start getting serious about knowing your blood pressure. It depends on individual risk factors; some cardiologists have patients in their 20s with hypertension.
“In general, you should check blood pressure by age 21, sooner if you have risk factors like family members with high blood pressure, or stroke. Checking earlier also helps identify high cholesterol, another risk factor in heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Shortal. “Once you hit 40, check pressure at least every year.“
Dr. Shortal also says it’s a good idea to keep “65 over 65” in mind. The chance of having high blood pressure increases with age. Sixty-five percent of people — regardless of gender or race — who are 65 or older likely have high blood pressure.
The power of prevention
A blood pressure reading of 140/90 is considered too high. In this calculation, the upper number is your “systolic” pressure, or the force of blood in the arteries as the heart beats. The bottom number, or “diastolic” pressure, is the force as the heart relaxes between beats.
According to Dr. Shortal, checking regularly and aiming for healthier blood pressure goals reduces heart attack risk by two-fold, or 200 percent, and the risk of stroke is reduced by four-fold, or 400 percent. Those are impressive numbers for an easy, painless test that takes less than two minutes — and can even be done in a pharmacy or at home.
“People who have high blood pressure can benefit from a home health monitor. Blood pressure can fluctuate, so if you’re checking weekly, you’re likely to get a reading that’s more accurate than a single test you’d get in a doctor’s office,” he says.
Your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher—what now?
“The best place to start is with your primary care physician — a lot of hypertension can be managed at that level,” says Dr. Shortal. “The PCP will conduct lab work before labeling you with hypertension — there may be other factors involved. A specialist will only get involved with more complex heart problems.”
Along with regular screenings, Dr. Shortal adds, exercise and a diet low in salt and saturated fat can have a significant, positive impact on your heart health and longevity.