Column: Blood pressure: what you should know

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Commentary by Belinda Watts, MD

Visits to the doctor usually include a blood pressure check. It’s a routine part of medical exams because blood pressure significantly impacts our health. High blood pressure (for adults, a reading greater than 140 over 90) forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Blood pressure that’s too high can cause stroke, kidney disease and heart disease.

Another reason for frequent checks is people with high blood pressure often do not experience symptoms. Factors such as smoking, being overweight or obese, and physical inactivity, can increase a person’s risk of developing high blood pressure. It’s important to discuss potential risk factors with your physician. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor can suggest ways to treat it, which may include lifestyle changes and/or medication. Lifestyle modifications, such as decreasing salt and alcohol intake, increasing exercise and controlling weight may help.

On the flip side, some people have low blood pressure. While the causes of low blood pressure aren’t entirely known, some factors, such as pregnancy, thyroid disease, diabetes, medications, dehydration and heat stroke may contribute. Chronically low blood pressure in healthy adults is not generally a concern. However, sudden drops in blood pressure can be problematic. Depriving the brain of oxygen, drops in blood pressure can result in dizziness or lightheadedness. Some people may experience these symptoms when standing up. Again, there are many potential causes – from specific health conditions and medications to the normal aging process. Talk with your doctor if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.

If you’re being treated for high blood pressure, it’s wise to check your blood pressure once or twice a month when you’re relaxed. Having it checked annually and when you visit the doctor may be sufficient if your readings are consistently normal and you’re low risk.

Belinda Watts, MD, specializes in internal medicine and is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Internal Medicine – Zionsville. She can be reached by calling the office at 317-873-8910. For more health information, subscribe to Strength in You at iuhealth.org/StrengthInYou.


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