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Blood pressure myths and facts

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Learn the truth about this “silent killer”


High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a dangerous and often misunderstood condition. Below are five common myths about blood pressure — and the truth. Be sure to check out the five steps at the end of this article you can take to keep yours under control.


Myth: I feel fine. I don’t have any symptoms of high blood pressure.


Fact: Very often, high blood pressure has no symptoms at all. That’s why it’s called the silent killer. You may not know you have the condition until you suffer a life-threatening event, like a stroke or heart attack.


It’s important to know your blood pressure numbers and take steps to keep them in the normal range of 120/80 or less.


Myth: One of my blood pressure numbers is normal, so I’m okay.


Fact: Your blood pressure reading contains two numbers. The top number is called systolic pressure. It measures the force of blood pushing against artery walls when your heart beats. The bottom number is called diastolic pressure. It measures the force of blood between heartbeats when your heart is resting. If either number is consistently higher than normal, you’re at risk.


Myth: My blood pressure is a bit high, but that’s normal for me.


Fact: High blood pressure is high blood pressure. A single high reading is generally not a problem. But if your reading is consistently higher than your doctor recommends, you’re at risk.


Myth: I’m healthy. I eat well and am a healthy weight, so I don’t need to worry.


Fact: You can be all those things and still have high blood pressure. Factors that increase your risk for high blood pressure include:

  • Being overweight

  • Age (men over age 55, women over age 65)

  • Family history of high blood pressure

  • Race (African Americans are at higher risk)

  • Smoking

  • Too much sodium in your diet

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, sleep apnea and/or high cholesterol

  • Even athletes and very thin people can have high blood pressure if, for example, they have a family history of the condition.


Myth: I can always control it with diet and exercise.


Fact: Some people can keep their blood pressure in check with a healthy lifestyle. This is a great place to start for everyone. However, if lifestyle changes don’t bring your blood pressure down, you may still need to take medicine to help control it. It’s important to remember that taking medicine doesn’t mean you should give up on lifestyle changes. For some people, it takes a combination of the two to properly control it.

The brutal truth

If striving for a healthy blood pressure is not high on your to-do list, this might change your mind. Here are some dangerous health conditions that can result from uncontrolled blood pressure:

  • Heart damage (including heart attack, heart failure, hardening of the arteries)

  • Blood vessel damage

  • Stroke

  • Kidney damage

  • Vision loss

  • Memory loss, including dementia

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Sleep trouble, including sleep apnea

  • Bone loss


Five steps to better control

The American Heart Association recommends taking these five steps to keep your blood pressure in check:

  1. Know your numbers. For most people, blood pressure at or below 120/80 is considered normal. But if you have a chronic condition, like diabetes or high cholesterol, your doctor may set a different goal for you.

  2. Get a plan. Work with your doctor to create a plan for reaching your goal. To get started, make an appointment at the ParTNers Center. Call 615.741.1709.

  3. Look at your lifestyle. Strive for: • A healthy weight with a body mass index under 25 • A diet rich in fruit, veggies and low-fat dairy, and low in sodium and saturated fat • An active lifestyle that includes moderate exercise for 2.5 hours a week • Limited alcohol intake of generally no more than 1-2 drinks a day​.

  4. Check your blood pressure on your own. If you work in or near the Tennessee Tower, you can use the free BP cuff kiosk in room 3.375 next door to the ParTNers Center.

  5. Follow doctor’s orders. In addition to any lifestyle recommendations, it’s important to take your medicine, if needed, exactly as prescribed. If you experience any unpleasant side effects, contact your doctor before stopping or changing how you take it.

If you need more help lowering your blood pressure, visit heart.org/hbp.

Sources: American Heart Association, Mayo Clinic, The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure