February Is American Heart Month

 In General Health, Heart Healthy Food, Stroke Education

February is all about love, and it’s also a time to raise awareness about other matters close to the chest – namely, heart health. Each February, the observance of American Heart Month serves as a critical reminder of the importance of maintaining cardiovascular health and implementing effective measures to protect the body’s most vital organ.

Many heart problems are the result of high blood pressure, which many consider a “silent killer” because the symptoms of it are not always obvious. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to a host of serious, potentially life-altering health issues.

Man sitting on a couch holding a hand over his chest.

Heart attacks and heart disease

High blood pressure raises the risk of heart attacks and heart disease by placing increased strain on the arteries. By damaging the arteries and making them less elastic, hypertension decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart, raising heart disease and heart attack risks.

Strokes

High blood pressure can also raise the risk of stroke by damaging blood vessels and increasing the likelihood of blood clots. Hypertension can also cause a condition known as atherosclerosis, which involves the thickening and hardening of the arteries. This makes the arteries more prone to blockage, which can further increase the chances of a stroke.

Kidney disease and kidney failure

High blood pressure also constricts and narrows the blood vessels throughout the body, including the kidneys. This can result in the kidneys malfunctioning. Over time, damage to the kidneys can cause kidney disease, which can lead to a loss of kidney function – and, eventually, kidney failure.

Vision problems

Hypertension also has the potential to damage the blood vessels in the eyes. This can lead to a variety of vision problems and eye conditions, among them hypertensive retinopathy and optic nerve damage.

While these are some of the most common health issues associated with high blood pressure, the condition also raises the risk of sexual dysfunction, angina (chest pain) and peripheral artery disease, among other possible health complications.

Blood Pressure Categories and What They Mean

Different blood pressure categories indicate different levels of risk with regard to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular health issues. The American Heart Association currently recognizes five distinct blood pressure categories.

Chart categorizing healthy and unhealthy blood pressure levels

Image Credit: Heart.org

Normal

“Normal” blood pressure typically falls below about 120/80 MM Hg. Those with blood pressures within this range should continue to make healthy choices with regard to diet, exercise and general lifestyle.

Elevated

Elevated blood pressure levels, which often fall between about 120 and 129 systolic and under 80 mm Hg diastolic, indicate an increased risk for developing high blood pressure – and the host of health complications that can accompany it.

Hypertension Stage 1

Those with blood pressures falling between about 120 and 139 systolic and 80- and 89-mm Hg face a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke. Blood pressure medication may become necessary once a patient’s blood pressure falls within this range.

Hypertension Stage 2

Those in Hypertension Stage 2 generally have blood pressure somewhere in the 140/90 mm Hg range. This can raise the risk of heart disease, stroke and over health problems substantially and typically warrants a combination of both blood pressure medication and major diet and lifestyle changes.

Hypertensive Crisis

Blood pressure levels that exceed 180/120 mm Hg indicate a serious health crisis. After such an elevated reading, wait five minutes and then perform another test. If blood pressure levels remain high, seek prompt medical attention.

By identifying and categorizing blood pressure stages, doctors and other health care providers can identify risk levels and help patients determine how to keep theirs in check. Because blood pressure levels fluctuate, checking them regularly – and taking steps to keep them low – helps maintain optimal cardiovascular health and prevent associated complications.

Monitoring blood pressure levels and making lifestyle changes helps manage and reduce health risks resulting from hypertension. This American Heart Month, have a heart-to-heart with your health care provider about optimizing heart health and paving the way for a happier, healthier future.

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