Even If You Feel Fine, Check Your Blood Pressure
Did you know that you might have high blood pressure and not know it? About 80 percent of adults aged 65 and over have hypertension.
That's why screening for high blood pressure before symptoms appear is so important. "If you have headaches, dizziness, vision change, or chest pain, your blood pressure may have been high for some time — which means it's already damaged your blood vessels and put you at risk for heart attack and stroke, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions," says John Kaschko, MD, internist at Group Health Medical Centers Redmond clinic. "Think of it as checking the oil in your car. By the time the oil light comes on, the damage is done."
Your doctor can help you determine your ideal blood pressure, and how often to measure it on an ongoing basis. You may need to check it more often if you've been diagnosed with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or coronary artery disease; have a history of stroke; or have other risk factors for hypertension.
"Many patients get only one additional reading after their visit to the doctor, which is not adequate," says Dr. Kaschko. "Check your blood pressure two or three times a week until you get six to eight readings. Then we can study the pattern."
Keep in mind that blood pressure fluctuates continually. To get an accurate reading, measure it at the same time each day. Don't smoke, exercise, or have caffeine within 30 to 60 minutes of taking your blood pressure, and sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back supported. If you're taking the test during a doctor visit and feel anxious, feel free to tell the nurse you need time to relax for a few minutes before continuing.
There's no need to schedule a doctor appointment to check your blood pressure. You can use the machines at Group Health Medical Centers locations anytime, and you can also measure your blood pressure at a drugstore, fire station, or on a machine at home.
If you have questions or concerns, contact your Group Health doctor through secure e-mail (if you have access to your personal online services). Or, record the results on a handy wallet-sized Blood Pressure Record card and bring it to your next appointment. You can get a card from your doctor, Group Health pharmacist, or by contacting our Resource Line.
Blood pressure increases with age for most of us, and can usually be managed successfully with lifestyle changes and medication. The most important thing we can do is take responsibility for tracking it on a regular basis.