February Is American Heart Month
Sure; Valentine’s Day takes place each year in February – but the second month of the year is also a great time to devote some attention to other matters of the heart. Each February, the United States celebrates American Heart Month, which raises awareness about the prevalence of heart disease and the steps you might take to strengthen and protect your own heart.
This year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention is paying particular attention to the role high blood pressure, or hypertension, plays in contributing to your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Blood Pressure Categories
Your doctor can test your blood pressure to determine if it falls within a healthy range – or if you need to take some extra steps to see that it does. A blood pressure reading contains two numbers: the first, or “top” number, references your systolic blood pressure, or how much pressure your heart applies on its external walls and arteries with each beat. The second, or “bottom” number, outlines your diastolic blood pressure, which determines how much force your heart applies against your arteries’ walls between beats.
Blood pressure test results place you in one of five blood pressure categories.
Your blood pressure falls within “normal” levels if the numbers are lower than 120/80 mm Hg. If your blood pressure falls within this category, keep doing what you’re doing as far as diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle habits.
Having elevated blood pressure places you at a higher risk of developing hypertension and facing all of the health risks that come with it. If your blood pressure falls somewhere between 120 and 129 systolic, but is less than 80 mm Hg diastolic, you may need to make some lifestyle changes to get your numbers back within healthy ranges.
Hypertension Stage 1
Lifestyle changes also become necessary if your blood pressure tends to stay between about 130 and 139 systolic and 80 and 89 mm Hg diastolic. If you have other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, your physician may also recommend that you begin taking blood pressure medications in addition changing your lifestyle.
Hypertension Stage 2
The odds of your doctor advising you to make lifestyle changes and take blood pressure medication increase substantially if your blood pressure falls within the Hypertension Stage 2 range. You fall into this category if your blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
If your blood pressure exceeds 180/120 mm Hg, this indicates a medical emergency. If you have no other obvious symptoms, try waiting five minutes after your elevated blood pressure reading and then test it again to see if it lowers. If your blood pressure indicates a hypertensive crisis and you are also experiencing tightness in your chest, difficulty breathing or other symptoms, seek medical care right away.
High Blood Pressure Health Risks
Having high blood pressure can lead to a wide range of health problems, most of which occur gradually. In addition to raising your risk of heart attack and stroke, having high blood pressure also increases your odds of developing or experiencing the following conditions or health issues.
- Heart failure
- Eye problems
- Kidney disease/kidney failure
- Peripheral artery disease
- Erectile dysfunction/low libido
The sooner you start monitoring and controlling your high blood pressure, the lower the chances of it leading to additional health issues.
While heart disease has become the leading cause of death for American men and women, there is some good news: it is also largely preventable. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, getting frequent exercise and having your blood pressure checked regularly helps your heart stay strong – and it also increases the chances of you living a longer, healthier and more enjoyable life.