Few Myths and Misconceptions about High Blood Pressure
Myth: Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is normal.
Fact Though more than 50 million Americans have high blood pressure, hypertension is not a "normal" condition. The Sixth Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood 1997 guidelines (JNC VI) defines hypertension as blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure (top number) or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure (bottom number). This is usually read as ³ 140/90 mm Hg, including both the top and bottom numbers in the measurement.
Myth: High blood pressure isn't really dangerous.
Fact High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, the first- and third-leading causes of death among Americans, and is the primary cause or primary contributing factor in more than 250,000 deaths every year. It also can lead to other conditions, such as congestive heart failure, kidney damage, dementia, and blindness.
Myth: In a blood pressure reading, the bottom number is more important than the top.
Fact Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers–the systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over the diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). For many years, the focus of high blood pressure screening and treatment has been on diastolic blood pressure. However, clinical evidence suggests that controlling both the systolic and diastolic pressure is important to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Both the top and bottom numbers are important, and both should be within the recommended JNC VI goals.
Myth: Systolic pressure of 100 + your age is normal.
Fact At any age, having a blood pressure of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is associated with a significantly elevated risk of developing hypertension-related cardiovascular disease, and medical attention is warranted. Optimal blood pressure for an adult is defined as below 120 mm Hg systolic and below 80 mm Hg diastolic; Normal blood pressure for most adults is defined as below 130 mm Hg systolic and below 85 mm Hg diastolic. Normal target blood pressure goals may be even lower for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes.
Myth: Hypertension cannot be controlled.
Fact Hypertension is easily detected and usually controllable. Making certain lifestyle modifications and taking medication as prescribed are the keys to controlling hypertension. Behavioral changes include losing excess weight, quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating a low-fat and low-salt diet. However, even with such behavioral changes, high blood pressure can still persist. Medication in conjunction with moderate lifestyle alterations is usually necessary to achieve the desired goal of below 140/90 mm Hg.
Myth: I don’t need to take my blood pressure medication, I feel just fine.
Fact Hypertension can have non-specific symptoms that may go unnoticed for years. However, organ damage and other serious conditions develop over time. It is important to meet the target goal of below 140/90 mm Hg to help avoid long-term complications of hypertension and reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke. For people with certain conditions, like diabetes, target blood pressure goals are even lower (below 130/85 mm Hg.)
- American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org
- High Blood Pressure Foundation, UK: http://www.hbpf.org.uk/
- Blood Pressure Association: http://www.bpassoc.org.uk/Home
- British Heart Foundation: http://www.bhf.org.uk/
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