High blood pressure, or hypertension, develops over years, and you’re right, most of the time there are no symptoms. However, the force of the blood against the inside of your blood vessels can cause damage to arteries and lead to heart problems.
Blood pressure is the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. If there is narrowing of the arteries your blood pressure goes up. This can go on for years and the damage to blood vessels and heart can go undetected. The longer it goes undetected the greater the damage. Long-term high blood pressure leads to heart attack and stroke.
The good news is that high blood pressure can be detected with a simple test at your doctor’s office. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, you can find high blood pressure screenings at health fairs and at pharmacies.
A blood pressure reading, taken with an inflatable arm cuff, is given in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and it has two numbers. The top number is the pressure in your arteries as your heart beats (systolic pressure). The bottom number is the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure). Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg.
Both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important, but after age 60 the systolic reading is relevant by itself because it’s more common to have isolated systolic hypertension after 60. A doctor might recommend taking your blood pressure at home at different times of day to determine if there’s a difference. If you have any type of high blood pressure, your doctor will review your medical history and examine you. They might also recommend routine tests, such as urine, blood and an electrocardiogram to see your heart’s electrical activity.
Depending on your situation, your doctor might prescribe medication to get your blood pressure down to a specific goal that’s appropriate for your age and overall health. Remember, high blood pressure is the most common cause of heart disease and stroke. There are things you can do, in addition to medication, to change your lifestyle and reduce your blood pressure.