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The Ups and Downs of High Blood Pressure

January 26, 2018
It’s that time of year again: the days are shorter and comfort food is abundant. People may be tempted to take a nap instead of go for a run, or reach for a cookie instead of a carrot, but Gregory Small, MD, primary care physician at GBMC, urges patients to think about how these decisions can affect overall health. “Weight gain contributes to increased blood pressure, so it’s especially important for people to monitor their habits this time of year,” Dr. Small says.

Gregory Small, MD
Dr. Gregory Small, MD
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, refers to a condition in which the heart is required to pump blood against a higher pressure than it is equipped to, placing a strain on the body. Known as the “silent killer” due to its lack of visible symptoms, high blood pressure, when poorly controlled, is a leading contributor to heart failure, chronic kidney disease including the need for dialysis, stroke and heart attack. Most patients experience high blood pressure over their lifetime and the risk of occurrence rises with age.

“I work with my patients to help them make changes that will lower their blood pressure and improve overall health,” Dr. Small says, noting that diet, exercise and alcohol consumption are key factors to monitor.
Good habits are important year round, but it’s especially important during the winter, when food loaded with sodium and saturated fat is more prominent, alcohol consumption increases and a sedentary lifestyle is more likely.

Traditionally, normal blood pressure is considered 120mmHg/80mmHg or lower, and high blood pressure is considered 140mmHg/90mmHg or higher. The range from 120-139mmHg/80-89mmHg is defined as borderline high blood pressure. “These numbers are general guidelines. With blood pressure, clinical judgment comes into play. For example, older patients may not feel well at a low blood pressure. What’s normal for someone else may not be normal for them,” Dr. Small notes. He adds that if a patient has other conditions, such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease, more aggressive management goals will be needed. In addition, other health conditions often influence which pharmacologic option may be most appropriate. Like all of GBMC’s primary care physicians, Dr. Small works with patients to help them manage chronic high blood pressure according to their own unique needs.

The longer high blood pressure is left untreated, the more likely a patient will experience the negative consequences of untreated hypertension. A primary care physician can provide blood pressure screenings and help patients set individual goals. With treatments ranging from lifestyle changes to medications, the right course of action should be decided between an individual and his or her primary care physician.

Best Ways to Keep Blood Pressure Down

Exercise: The ideal amount of aerobic exercise is five days per week, for at least 30-minute sessions.
Diet: Try to consume a diet rich in as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, limiting sodium intake.
Alcohol Consumption: Avoid having more than one serving of alcohol per day. Imbibing in several servings can lead to increased blood pressure.
Inactivity/weight gain: Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI). A BMI less than 25 is great for most people, but determine a weight goal with a physician to ensure proper health!

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