When it comes to matters of the heart in February, most people immediately start making Valentine’s Day plans. However, heart health planning should be a year-round activity. We know that the heart is a vital organ that pumps blood throughout the body via the circulatory system supplying oxygen and nutrients to tissues while removing carbon dioxide and other wastes. However, it is the pressure that transports the blood through the circulatory system and is produced primarily by the contraction of the heart muscle.
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers - systolic (first number) and diastolic (second number). Systolic blood pressure indicates how much pressure blood is exerting against the artery walls when the heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure shows how much pressure blood is exerting against the artery walls while the heart is at rest. Traditionally, more attention is given to the systolic number as it is used as an indicator of a major risk factor; however, both numbers need to be considered. A blood pressure reading below 120 over 80 (120/80) is generally considered normal with a low risk of heart disease or stroke.
“Maintaining a healthy body weight, a diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and low-sodium products combined with regular exercise significantly reduces the risk of health issues related to high blood pressure,” said Dr. Brandon Oberweis, a board-certified physician in cardiology, affiliated with RWJBarnabas Health medical group as well as Robert Wood Johnson University Hospitals in New Brunswick and Rahway. “When too much pressure is exerted in the blood’s transport system, it can result in hypertension and high blood pressure. These conditions can be genetic affecting multiple members of the same family and tends to afflict more men than women. Age and race also play a role.”
Depending on your blood pressure readings, many doctors will recommend lifestyle changes rather than immediately prescribing medication. Since 2017, the American Heart Association (AHA) has advised patients with a blood pressure of 130/80 or higher to receive treatment. Those individuals who exhibit blood pressures of 120-129/80 are considered to have elevated blood pressure and 130-139/80-89 to be considered stage I hypertension.
Dr. Oberweis added that hypertension and high blood pressure can be particularly troublesome as many people are unaware of their condition so he recommends regular check-ups, especially if there is a close relative who has been previously diagnosed.
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure that goes untreated can lead to:
Stroke: High blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the brain to burst or clog.
Heart Failure: High blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body.
Vision Loss: High blood pressure can strain vessels in the eyes.
Heart Attack: High blood pressure damages arteries around kidneys and interferes with the ability to effectively filter blood.
Sexual Dysfunction: High blood pressure can cause erectile dysfunction in men and lower libido in women.
For more information or to find a specialist who treats and manages blood pressure, please visit rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty or location.