Your blood pressure can be a good indicator of your heart’s health. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a very common condition. About 75 million Americans — 1 out of every 3 adults over age 20 — have high blood pressure, yet many people do not know they have it.1 High blood pressure is frequently referred to as the “silent killer” because it often has no signs or symptoms.2 And, many people who have high blood pressure do not have the condition under control.3
Hypertension occurs when the blood within your blood vessels cannot travel freely, increasing pressure inside the vessel. High blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of developing other serious conditions, like heart disease.1 The good news: High blood pressure can be treated and even prevented. That is why it is important to get your blood pressure checked and, if you are diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension, take the necessary steps to control it.
The first step to keeping your heart healthy is understanding what high blood pressure is, how it can lead to heart disease, who is at risk and how to keep your blood pressure in a range that is healthy.
Why High Blood Pressure Matters
High blood pressure can affect your body in many ways. Untreated, high blood pressure can increase the strain on your heart and arteries, eventually leading to other serious health threats like heart attack, stroke, heart failure and heart disease.4
Even if your blood pressure is only slightly elevated, you need to take it seriously. Increased pressure can create physical changes to how your heart, arteries and vessels are built, and even how they work. Furthermore, heart disease is progressive. It can very easily get worse over time if it is not diagnosed and monitored by your health care provider. But there is good news: studies have shown people who can manage their hypertension see their likelihood of heart failure decrease by 64%!1
High blood pressure is a red flag that it is time to make some health lifestyle changes to protect heart health. Check out this handy guide to learn what actions you can take at home to better manage your chronic high blood pressure and reduce your risk for heart disease.
Who is at Risk for High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease?
There are several factors that can increase your risk for hypertension. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, like age and family history. Others can be controlled, like diet and lifestyle habits.
It is important to know your risk factors and talk about them with your health care provider. This information can help your provider create a personalized high blood pressure prevention and/or management plan that may include lifestyle changes as well as medication.
People may be more at risk for high blood pressure because of the following uncontrollable risk factors:5
- Family history. Just like brown eyes or red hair runs in families, so does high blood pressure. Your chances increase if you have close blood relatives with hypertension.
- Age. Your risk of developing hypertension increases with age. This risk is associated with (normal) changes to our blood vessels. However, the risk is increasing for children and teens, which is possibly related to being overweight or obese.6
- Gender. Research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that women see slightly higher rates of high blood pressure than men. This translates to an increased risk for heart failure in women by nearly 3-fold as compared to men.1
- Race or ethnicity. High blood pressure is more likely to develop in African American adults than people of any other racial background in the U.S.
- Preexisting or chronic diseases. Some individuals have conditions that create other health issues. The American Heart Association (AHA) identifies diabetes, chronic kidney disease and obstructive sleep apnea as conditions that may increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Controllable risk factors are habits or behaviors you can change yourself. They include:5
- Lack of physical activity. Regular exercise is not only good for your overall health, but it is good for your heart. Not exercising often, or at all, can increase your risk of high blood pressure.
- An unhealthy diet. Eating an unhealthy diet, especially one that is high in sodium, can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. By adjusting your diet, eating healthier and keeping an eye on your salt intake, you can help lower your risk.
- Being overweight or obese. Excess weight puts a strain on your heart, which can cause your blood pressure to rise. Losing as little as five to ten pounds may help lower your blood pressure.7
- Drinking too much alcohol. Drinking in excess is bad for you for a number of reasons, but you can add an increased risk of high blood pressure to that list. Regular, heavy use of alcohol can cause your blood pressure to increase.
- Chronic stress. Experiencing some stress is perfectly normal. But too much stress can affect your blood pressure. And, if you react to stress in unhealthy ways, like drinking or smoking, you can increase your blood pressure.
- Tobacco Use. It is no secret what tobacco does to the lungs. The fact is the lungs are not the only organs affected. Smoke (and secondhand smoke) increase the risk of artery-clogging plaque. Your blood pressure also temporarily increases with every single puff.8 If you need help kicking the smoking habit, the Compass Rose Health Plan offers a free Tobacco Cessation program for eligible members.
Making healthy lifestyle changes can help lower your blood pressure. You can learn many easy ways to lower blood pressure at home in this post.
Take Control of Your High Blood Pressure
Everyone can experience temporary high blood pressure at some point in their life. It’s when high blood pressure lasts for long periods of time and does not respond to simple healthy lifestyle changes that it can become problematic.
That is why it is important to get your blood pressure checked at your annual preventive care checkup. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure or hypertension, your provider may recommend more frequent checks. In addition, your provider will work with you to help lower your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. For some people, lifestyle changes, like maintaining a healthy diet and exercising, may be enough to lower their blood pressure. If a healthier lifestyle is not enough to bring your blood pressure down, you have other risk factors or you have another chronic condition, your doctor may prescribe medication.
You are your best chance to lower your risk of hypertension and heart disease. Even with medication, lifelong healthy habits are crucial for helping lower your risk for hypertension and heart disease.
Starting today, you can take steps to lower your risk of hypertension. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that adults 18 and older get their blood pressure checked annually.9
It is possible to manage your blood pressure — and the Compass Rose Health Plan has resources to help! Members and their eligible spouse can each earn 50 reward points when getting an annual preventive care exam. Plus, they can each earn an additional 50 reward points if they bring the UMR Physician Lab Form to their visit and have their provider fill out their biometric screening. That is 100 points each!
Need help finding a primary care physician? Use our Find a Doctor tool to locate a health care provider who can work with you to create a plan that helps you develop healthy habits to decrease your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
The Compass Rose Health Plan wants you to get and stay healthy. Members who have been diagnosed with hypertension may be eligible to participate in UMR’s Care Management Program. Through this program you get personalized support from a nurse coach who can help you manage your condition. Find out whether you qualify to speak with a nurse coach by filling out this form or calling UMR at (866) 575-2540.
Remember, hypertension can lead to heart disease. So work with your health care provider to create a treatment plan that allows you to take control of the risk factors that are risking your heart — and your life.
1Hypertensive Heart Disease. (2019, May). Retrieved from the National Center for Biotechnology Information of the U.S. National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539800/
2 Why High Blood Pressure is a "Silent Killer" (2017, May). American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer
3 Facts About Hypertension (2020, February). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm
4 Health Threats From High Blood Pressure (2016, October). American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/health-threats-from-high-blood-pressure
5 Know Your Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure (2017, December). Retrieved from American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/why-high-blood-pressure-is-a-silent-killer/know-your-risk-factors-for-high-blood-pressure
6 High Blood Pressure. (n.d.) Retrieved from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-pressure
7 Managing Weight to Control High Blood Pressure (2016, October). American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/managing-weight-to-control-high-blood-pressure#.WX-zDxPyt3M
8 Smoking, High Blood Pressure and Your Health (2016, October). Retrieved from American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/smoking-high-blood-pressure-and-your-health
9 High Blood Pressure in Adults: Screening. (2015, October). Retrieved from U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/high-blood-pressure-in-adults-screening?ds=1&s=High%20Blood%20Pressure