Here is an easy habit that may help reduce hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure: start monitoring it at home.
It’s easy, inexpensive, and scientifically proven. “Blood pressure has to be measured regularly at home, not just once in a while at the doctor’s office; that’s not enough to tell if medication is working or not,” says Dr. Andrew Eisenhauer, cardiologist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
The need for home monitoring is simple. High blood pressure occurs when the force of blood pushing against the blood vessel walls is constantly too high. It injures the vessel walls and forces the heart to work harder, which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, leading causes of death in the United States. Yet like me, one in three adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and half don’t have it under control.
Why is it so difficult? Some people don’t know that they have high blood pressure. Many people who have been diagnosed don’t take their medication. Those who do may not have found an effective medication regimen yet. Some may need a different dose or drug, and some may need to take two or three different drugs. So experimentation may be part of the process. That’s why home monitoring is important.
Does home monitoring work? The success of home monitoring is backed by a growing number of studies, including one published July 3, 2013, in The Journal of the American Medical Association that found 72% of those doing home monitoring had their blood pressure under control compared to 57% who received usual care from their primary doctors.
Dr. Eisenhauer attributes the success of home monitoring to two important factors. One, it helps you stay on top of your condition better than infrequent doctor visits. If you pay more attention to your blood pressure, you’ll know when it’s elevated, and you’ll be more likely to ask your doctor for adjustments in medications. Second, home monitoring encourages patients to become partners in the management of their blood pressure. That means you are more likely to do the other things you need to do in order to control blood pressure, like exercise and reduce salt intake.
How often should you check? Twice a day for a week, at first. I find the best times are early in the morning (before you have taken any blood pressure medications) and again in the evening. After a week, ask your doctor how often you should check it. Normal Blood Pressure Guidelines are up to 120/80, Prehypertensive are 120-139/80-89 and Hypertension 140/90 and higher. These figures are based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just remember that home monitoring is not a substitute for regular physician check-ups, especially for patients with poorly controlled blood pressure.
Eat healthy, exercise, and treat your body right!
Bert Wasson, FLMI
Director of Life Underwriting