Today's Medicine

Know Your Numbers: High Blood Pressure Risks

Published: Dec. 29, 2021

Taking your blood pressure seems like one of those routine things that just happens when you visit your doctor. But there’s a good reason we take it seriously … and why you should, too.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure – also called hypertension – is when the pressure in your arteries is too high. 

Think of it like the air in your car’s tire. Too much, and your tire could pop! While there’s an extremely low risk of anything “popping” in your system, having elevated blood pressure can wreak havoc in many other ways.

The Consequences of High Blood Pressure on Health

So what are the ways having high blood pressure can hurt your health? Long-term high blood pressure puts you at risk for:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Vision problems
  • Kidney disease/failure
  • Sexual dysfunction

Controlling your blood pressure now can help minimize your risk for these greater health problems.

Knowing Your Blood Pressure

It all starts by knowing your blood pressure numbers. You don’t need to be at a doctor’s office to monitor it – many grocery stores and pharmacies have blood pressure machines, and you can even buy them for home use. You should take your blood pressure regularly to know your baseline.

While everyone’s blood pressure goals are different based on their individual health, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have collaborated to publish guidelines and recommendations. Their research found that for every 20 mmHg increase in the systolic blood pressure and for every 10 mmHg increase in the diastolic blood pressure, the risk of having a stroke, heart disease or vascular disease doubled.

What are the guidelines for “normal” blood pressure?

table displaying guidelines for blood pressure


Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is often called the "silent killer.” That’s because most people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it. Most experience no symptoms at all, but those with extremely high blood pressure may experience:

  • Headache 
  • Vision changes 
  • Dizziness 
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds

These symptoms may not be directly from your blood pressure being too high, but from other serious conditions high blood pressure causes, such as stroke or heart attack. If your blood pressure is extremely high and you experience these symptoms, wait five minutes and retest. If your reading remains at 180/120 mmHg or higher, call 911.


Controlling Your Blood Pressure

Keeping your blood pressure under control starts with a conversation with your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider, and a focus on good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. In my office, I first talk with patients about their risk factors. While you can't prevent some risk factors, such as family history, age, gender, race or chronic kidney disease, some risk factors are manageable. They include:

  • Not enough physical activity
  • A diet too high in salt, calories, saturated and trans fat and sugar
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Heavy alcohol consumption 
  • Sleep apnea
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking 
  • Too much stress

If you carry one or more of these risk factors, now is the time to talk with your doctor. At Methodist Physicians Clinic, you can also find help through our Patient-Centered Medical Home program, where health coaches work with you to take a more active role in your wellness and set you up for success.

If you need help managing your blood pressure, don't hesitate to reach out to your Methodist Physicians Clinic health care team.

More Resources

About the Author

The thing Dr. Thomas McElderry enjoys the most about being a family medicine provider is the relationships he builds every day with his patients. He says working side-by-side with patients to help them with both acute illness and managing their health is what makes it so fulfilling.

Patients can visit Dr. McElderry at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

See more articles from Thomas McElderry, MD
Photo of Thomas McElderry, MD