High blood pressure - what to ask your doctor
What to ask your doctor about high blood pressure; Hypertension - what to ask your doctor
When your heart pumps blood into your arteries, the pressure of the blood against the artery walls is called your blood pressure. Your blood pressure is given as two numbers: systolic over diastolic blood pressure. Your systolic blood pressure is the highest blood pressure during the course of your heart beat cycle. Your diastolic blood pressure is the lowest pressure.
When your blood pressure gets too high, it puts extra stress on your heart and blood vessels. If your blood pressure stays high all the time, you will be at a higher risk for heart attacks and other vascular (blood vessel) diseases, strokes, kidney disease, and other health problems.
Below are questions you may want to ask your health care provider to help you take care of your blood pressure.
Carrying a lot of extra weight around your middle or sprinkling too much salt onto your food at each meal can cause high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension. Stress and your genes can also bring your blood pressure up. Sometimes when your blood pressure is high, your doctor might not be able to find any direct cause for it. That's what's called essential hypertension. When your doctor talks to you about your blood pressure, he's referring to the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. The top number in your blood pressure is called the systolic blood pressure. That's the pressure in your blood vessels while your heart is pumping. The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure and that's the pressure when your heart rests between beats. You want your blood pressure to stay at 120 over 80 or less. A blood pressure of 140 over 90 or more is considered high. Why is high blood pressure a problem, you ask? Well, you can think of high blood pressure as being like a river that's rushing too hard, eventually it's going to damage its banks. With high blood pressure, the extra force of your blood pushing against your artery walls eventually damages them. It can also damage your heart, your kidneys, and other organs. So, how do you know if you have high blood pressure? Often you don't know, because high blood pressure doesn't have symptoms like a fever or cough. Usually there are no symptoms at all, and you won't be able to find out that you have high blood pressure unless you've had it checked, or you've developed complications like heart disease or kidney problems. You can check your blood pressure yourself with a home monitor, or have it checked at your doctor's office. If it's high, you and your doctor will set a blood pressure goal. You can achieve that goal in different ways, like eating a healthy diet, exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, quitting smoking, eating less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day, and using programs like meditation and yoga to relieve your stress. But if these lifestyle changes aren't enough, your health care provider might prescribe one or more medicines to lower your blood pressure. The reason why doctors are so serious about a patients' blood pressure is that having uncontrolled blood pressure can cause a lot of serious health problems, including heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and loss of vision. When it comes to your blood pressure, it's best to be proactive. Call your doctor for a check-up if you haven't had one in a while, and get your blood pressure checked. If it's high, follow your doctor's advice for bringing it back into a healthy range.
How can I change the way I live to lower my blood pressure?
- What is a heart-healthy diet? Is it OK to ever eat something that is not heart healthy? What are some ways to eat healthy when I go to a restaurant?
- Do I need to limit how much salt I use? Are there other spices that I can use to make my food taste good?
- Is it OK to drink alcohol? How much is OK?
- What can I do to stop smoking? Is it OK to be around other people who are smoking?
Should I check my blood pressure at home?
- What type of equipment should I buy? Where can I learn how to use it?
- How often do I need to check my blood pressure? Should I write it down and bring it to my next visit?
- If I cannot check my own blood pressure, where else can I have it checked?
- What should my blood pressure reading be? Should I rest before taking my blood pressure?
- When should I call my provider?
What is my cholesterol? Do I need to take medicines for it?
Is it OK to be sexually active? Is it safe to use sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra) for erection problems?
What medicines am I taking to treat high blood pressure?
- Do they have any side effects? What should I do if I miss a dose?
- Is it ever safe to stop taking any of these medicines on my own?
How much activity can I do?
- Do I need to have a stress test before I exercise?
- Is it safe for me to exercise on my own?
- Should I exercise inside or outside?
- Which activities should I start with? Are there activities or exercises that are not safe for me?
- How long and how hard can I exercise?
- What are the warning signs that I should stop exercising?
Following your blood pressure at home has gotten a lot easier in the last few years. I'm Dr. Alan Greene. I'd like to share with you a little bit about that. Not too long ago when you wanted to follow your blood pressure at home, you had to have the old fashioned sphygmomonometer, and the device was a complex as that word sounds. You had to pump something up, and put a stethoscope in your ears, and fumble all these different tubes and even so wouldn't get a very accurate reading. Now, there are simple, high quality, digital blood pressure cuffs. They're easy to use at home. They're built so they snap on the arm very easily, just press a single button, and the chip inside does the work for you. It blows it up, it gives you the reading, and some of the newer models even connect it to your PC and track the readings for you. Now, how accurate are they? They're really pretty good. I wouldn't trust a single reading that much if you get one that's high or low. I wouldn't be either reassured or panicked. But, I would trust the pattern of readings. So, if you have one that tracks it for you, that's great, if not, just write them down what date and time you took it and see what the pattern is over time. If there's anything of concern, be sure to report it to your physician.
Bakris GL, Sorrentino MJ. Systemic hypertension: mechanisms, diagnosis, and treatment. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Bhatt DL, Solomon SD, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine.12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 26.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. High blood pressure.
Whelton PK, Carey RM, Aronow WS, et al. 2017 ACC/AHA/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/AGS/APhA/ASH/ASPC/NMA/PCNA guideline for the prevention, detection, evaluation, and management of high blood pressure in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018; 71(19)e127-e248. PMID: 29146535
Last reviewed on: 3/2/2023
Reviewed by: Jacob Berman, MD, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.