One out of every three American adults is diagnosed with high blood pressure. The disease is responsible for 35 percent of all heart attacks and strokes, 49 percent of all episodes of heart failure, and 24 percent of all premature deaths.
So what exactly is blood pressure, what will a blood pressure screen reveal, and when is it high?
A blood pressure reading is made up of two numbers written one above, or before, the other. The first, or top, number is a measure of systolic pressure. The systolic pressure measures how much the blood flowing through the blood vessels pushes against the vessel walls during a heart beat. The second, or bottom, number is the diastolic pressure. It measures the pressure in between beats – while the heart relaxes.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Normal blood pressure is a systolic pressure of less than 120 and a diastolic pressure of is less than 80—for example, 117/77. High blood pressure (or hypertension) is defined in an adult as a blood pressure greater than or equal to 140 mm Hg systolic pressure or greater than or equal to 90 mm Hg diastolic pressure.
Having your blood pressure checked regularly will help you identify whether you have high blood pressure or if you are at risk for getting it. If you’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, frequent screenings will help you monitor how well your blood pressure stays in control.
If you receive a moderately high reading, don’t panic. Normally, blood pressure varies throughout the day, having your blood pressure measured occasionally helps you understand your “normal” range. This is helpful information to take to your health care provider, and something that you can record in a log or journal.
High blood pressure doesn’t develop overnight and although the exact causes of high blood pressure are not crystal clear, there are a number of modifiable risk factors and steps you can take to reduce or prevent high blood pressure. These are:
Another important risk factor you can control is to not smoke or quit smoking. While cigarette smoking is not directly related to high blood pressure, it does increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Be physically active
- Select foods lower in salt and sodium
- Only drink alcoholic beverages in moderation
FOH Occupational Health Centers (OHC) can provide regular blood pressure screenings to employees of participating agencies. If your agency participates in FOH’s Basic Occupational Health Center Services, ask for our “Health Tracker,” a handy wallet card to help track your blood pressure measurements over time. Better yet, call your health center nurse today to set up a blood pressure screening for your workplace. Let FOH become your worksite health partner.
If you are an agency manager, you need to know that high blood pressure does impact the workplace due to lost productivity and medical leave. You can make a difference by encouraging employees to have their blood pressure checked.