High blood pressure is the silent killer. It puts people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, vascular disease, kidney failure…it is basically really bad to have longstanding, undertreated high blood pressure.
But it is also harmful to be told you have high blood pressure when you don’t, and to be treated for high blood pressure when that treatment won’t benefit you. So when your doctor diagnoses you with high blood pressure, it is good to make sure you have earned the diagnosis. Let me lay out a few facts about high blood pressure and then suggest several questions to ask your doctor, so you get the treatment that is best for you.
The background: high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a chronic condition, characterized by regularly elevated blood pressure readings. If you have occasional blood pressure readings above normal, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have hypertension. But if your blood pressure runs too high, too often, all that pressure on the walls of your arteries can do serious damage.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force that blood exerts on your arteries as it is propelled through them by your heart. Think of a balloon with a small amount of air in it: there is not much air pressing out on the balloon. Blow it up more, and the balloon becomes more taut. That is what happens to your arteries with each beat of your heart. Your heart ventricles contract, forcing blood into your arteries, stretching them under all that forward-flowing pressure. The heart now relaxes and refills with blood, and the pressure inside your arteries goes down. That is why blood pressure is made up of two numbers: the bigger one that follows after heart contraction, and the smaller one that coincides with heart relaxation.
So what blood pressure readings are too high to have for too long?
(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)