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Under Pressure: Understanding Hypertension

Have you ever walked into your doctor’s office and wondered why they are so concerned with your blood pressure and what the numbers mean? After all, aren’t we all “under enough pressure?”

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard your blood is pushing against the walls of your arteries—blood vessels running away from your heart and carrying blood to other parts of your body. Typically, there are two numbers used to evaluate blood pressure. The top number, systolic, is the pressure when your heart is contracting, and the bottom number, diastolic, is the pressure when your heart is relaxing or filling.

A normal blood pressure value is less than 120/80. High blood pressure or hypertension is generally recognized as 140/90 or greater. If you fall in the middle, your doctor may refer to your blood pressure as “elevated.” Elevated blood pressure is not the same thing as high blood pressure; we use this term just to indicate that your blood pressure is not in the optimal range and should be watched.

What’s the big deal?

Nearly half of US adults (45%) have hypertension (nearly 108 million of your neighbors). What is worse, about one in four of those don’t have their condition under control, with many more unaware of their blood pressure status. Treatment for hypertension is the most common reason for doctor visits in the U.S. and costs the U.S. about $131 billion (yes, billions!) each year.

Uncontrolled hypertension can damage your heart and other organs, eventually leading to other health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Turn It Down

Your ability to “turn down” your blood pressure starts with YOU. Lisa Trawick, APRN, FNP, with UT Health East Texas Physicians in Rusk recently shared some tips on how to get started. I will summarize them below, but you can also visit her blog at’t-break-your-heart-tips-preventing-heart-disease:

· Focus on eating right—fruits and vegetables are key.

· Get moving — daily activity for about 30 minutes.

· Limit alcoholic beverages.

If your pressure is not going down, you may need to visit your doctor. Some people need medication and others have other medical issues that can affect their blood pressure. If you are having symptoms that could be related to your blood pressure (such as vision changes, passing out, headaches or chest pain), then talk to your doctor immediately.

If you are on blood pressure medicine already, then keep taking it. It could save your life!

The Bottom Line

Whatever you tackle first, choose specific, realistic goals, and give yourself a deadline. For example, don’t just say you are going to "exercise more." Instead, decide that you are going to walk for 10 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next two weeks.

Blood pressure goals have been a moving target over the last decade. A landmark study (SPRINT trial for any of you readers out there) has shown that patient’s receiving more rigorous blood pressure control have reduced rates of heart attack and stroke compared to those receiving standard control. In other words, don’t feel pressured by the numbers! Your doctor is a great guide to getting your blood pressure under control and protecting your heart.


Todd Hendrickson, DO, is a family medicine physician at UT Health East Texas Physicians in Jacksonville. To make an appointment with Dr. Hendrickson or to find a physician near you, visit


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