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Blood pressure myths

Spoiler: Nixing the table salt isn’t enough to prevent hypertension.

Article Author: Katie McPherson

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Everyone knows the drill: When you visit your doctor, he or she will take your weight, listen to your heart and lungs, and check your blood pressure. The American Academy of Family Physicians counts a reading of 130/80 as high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The higher the number on either side, the worse the condition is.

While having high blood pressure may not seem like the worst diagnosis in the world, there’s a reason your doctor checks it each and every time you’re in the office. Hypertension can take a toll on your body if left untreated.

Tristan Imhof, MD, is a family physician with Baptist Primary Care. He helps many of his patients manage high blood pressure, and often hears misunderstandings about the condition. Here are five common myths about high blood pressure, and the facts you should know instead.

Myth: I don’t have symptoms of high blood pressure, so I don’t have it.

People with severe high blood pressure may experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, headaches, vision changes, chest pain and more. But others may never feel a thing, which is one reason why getting your annual screening is so important.

“Most patients are asymptomatic unless their pressures are significantly elevated,” Dr. Imhof said. “Even when they are having headaches, they usually attribute them to other causes rather than blood pressure. I call hypertension a silent killer because, if left untreated, it will significantly raise your risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney disease, among many other conditions that can cause permanent damage to your health.”

Myth: If high blood pressure runs in my family, I can’t prevent it.

“This may have some degree of truth as there are genetic components to hypertension, but this is not entirely the case,” said Dr. Imhof.

If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you’re at increased risk of developing the condition, too. But it can still be a matter of ‘if’ you get it rather than ‘when,’ if you’re proactive.

“Practicing a healthy lifestyle with exercise and an appropriate diet, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling things like sodium intake will give you the best chance of not developing hypertension, even if it does run in the family,” Dr. Imhof added.

Myth: My doctor monitors my high blood pressure, so I don’t need to measure it at home.

Blood pressure monitors are easy to find in major retail stores and online, and they’re fairly inexpensive. If you have high blood pressure, these devices are a worthwhile investment in your health.

Dr. Imhof explained that doctors like to track blood pressure trends over time so they can work with you to find the best possible treatment. The information gathered only from blood pressure readings during appointments doesn’t give them enough to go on.

“Home blood pressure monitoring is crucial in assisting your physician in managing your blood pressure,” said Dr. Imhof. “In the office, readings are also often affected by nerves, anxiety and other variables that may have raised your pressure on the way to the appointment, so at home is really the best place to monitor pressure.”

If your doctor recommends you monitor your blood pressure at home, be sure to ask about the best techniques for getting accurate readings.

Myth: I don’t add salt to my food, so I don’t have to worry about my blood pressure.

Taking salt off the table and opting for low-sodium goods in the canned aisle are good practices. Unfortunately, reducing sodium intake is not enough on its own to prevent or treat high blood pressure.

“Limiting the use of table salt, eliminating it from recipes, and purchasing low-sodium foods are all great ways to try and prevent hypertension, but we can’t just rely on this to ensure you never have to worry about developing it,” said Dr. Imhof.

Myth: Blood pressure doesn’t cause serious disease.

When it comes to high blood pressure, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Chronic high blood pressure can lead to vision impairment, damage to veins and arteries throughout the body, erectile dysfunction, neuropathy and many more issues.

“I advise all my patients that blood pressure typically isn’t a noticeable problem until they have a heart attack, stroke or start to show signs of kidney disease,” said Dr. Imhof. “By the time this happens, of course we treat the blood pressure, but the damage has already been done. Once a patient has clear signs of damage from hypertension, we will always be battling to prevent the next event.”

Do you need a primary care physician who can help you find the right treatment plan for your high blood pressure? Baptist Primary Care has locations across the Jacksonville area so you can find care close to you. Call 904.202.4968 (202.4YOU) or request an appointment online.

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