High blood pressure is considered a silent killer. It sneaks up on you, carries no symptoms and can put you at risk for heart disease. It can also feel like it came out of nowhere, like it did for survivor, Shermane Winters-Wofford.
Shermane thought she was perfectly healthy – until she suffered a stroke. And as it turns out, her family history of high blood pressure and heart disease had put her at risk all along.
High blood pressure, also known as HBP or hypertension, is a widely misunderstood. We often assume it affects those who are type-A, tense and aggressive. But the truth is, it has nothing to do with personality traits. In fact, you can be the most relaxed, calm person and still suffer from HBP.
The reality is that HBP is a condition that makes the heart work harder than normal. And left untreated, it scars and damages your arteries and can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, eye damage, heart failure and fatty buildups in the arteries, called atherosclerosis.
Understanding your numbers
Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers and a written as a ratio.
- Systolic: The top number in the ratio, which is also the higher of the two, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
- Diastolic: The bottom number in the ratio, which is also the lower of the two, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats.
Your blood pressure rises with each heartbeat and falls when your heart relaxes between beats. While it can change from minute to minute with changes in posture, exercise, stress or sleep, it should normally be less than 120/80 mm Hg for women age 20 or over.
Here’s how the numbers are evaluated:
- Normal: Less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic
- Pre-hypertension: 120-139 systolic or 80-89 diastolic
- Hypertension: 140 or higher systolic or 90 or higher diastolic
- Hypertensive Crisis: higher than 180 or higher than 110 diastolic
Because blood pressure can fluctuate, consider investing in a home blood pressure monitor to record your numbers regularly. Doing so can help your healthcare provider determine whether you really have high blood pressure and, if you do, whether your treatment plan is working.
Decreasing your risk
As a woman, you have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if you are 20 pounds or more overweight, have a family history of high blood pressure, or have reached menopause. But you don’t have to suffer two strokes, like Shermane, before you start taking action to prevent it.
While there is no cure, HBP is manageable and preventable by adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes a diet low in salt, saturated fats, cholesterol and alcohol. Physical activity and weight loss are also key factors in lowering your numbers. And these simple changes can go a long way.
Today, Shermane’s eats right, exercises regularly and tracks her blood pressure every day. She also makes sure others don’t underestimate the importance of knowing their blood pressure numbers and family history. Are you ready to join her in the fight against heart disease?