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Blood Pressure: Do You Need It?

November 17, 2017
Plain English Version

Get an accurate blood pressure reading.

Yes, you do. If you do not have blood pressure, it means you are dead. So we all need blood pressure. What we do not need is high blood pressure. Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. Both phrases mean your blood pressure is too high for your health.

How do we measure blood pressure? It is the higher number over the lower number. The higher number is your systolic score. It is the pressure on blood vessels when the heart contracts. The lower number is your diastolic score. It is the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats. Doctors write the numbers as XXX/XX, such as 120/80.

You should maintain your blood pressure at a healthy level. It reduces your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Before a recently released new report, doctors considered a score of 140/90 high blood pressure. Under these standards, close to half of patients did not manage to get their blood pressure down to a healthy level. The newly revised score for high blood pressure is 130/80. For millions more, their blood pressure should be lower.

The number of adults with high blood pressure, or hypertension, will rise to 103 million from 72 million under the previous standard. 

Few risk factors are as important to health. High blood pressure is second. Heart attacks, strokes, and heart disease remain the leading killer of Americans.

The easiest way to lower blood pressure is by diet and exercise. Well, those are the best ways. For many people, the usual way to lower blood pressure is to take blood pressure pills.

The findings affect nearly half of all American adults. Who is most at risk? About 80 percent of those aged 65 and older will find that they are at risk. Just about all-older people have to keep an eye on their blood pressure. 

Younger patients at risk include those with heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes.

Healthy young people at low risk should aim for blood pressure scores below 140/90. And take pills if necessary. Blood pressure meds are cheap and have few side effects. Still, doctors say many who need them do not take them all the time.

There are some critics of the new guidelines. Some see the report as a gift to the drug industry. It will make millions from selling more drugs.

Others say it is hard to get a good reading of blood pressure. The readings change all the time. Sometimes just getting your blood pressure read in a doctor’s office can make the score higher. Some experts recommend monitoring your blood pressure with kits for use at home.

This kind of report brings out skeptics and believers. One thing is certain. The recommendations are subject to change.

Source: The New York Times November 13, 2017

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