Our health is measured by many numbers: cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index are just a few. For most of us, the actual numbers aren’t as important as knowing our blood pressure numbers are within a healthy range.

February is American Heart Month so the James Family Heart Center at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) wants to arm you with information to manage and monitor your blood pressure.

Why the focus on managing blood pressure? High blood pressure affects one in three American adults and only 54 percent of them have it under control. High blood pressure has earned the scary name of “silent killer” because early-on there are no obvious symptoms or signs associated with it. Even scarier, untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Warning Signs
If you have high blood pressure that’s untreated for a period of time, there can be warning signs and blood pressure symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss/hair loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intense headaches

What Do Your Blood Pressure Numbers Mean?

If your blood pressure is elevated, it’s important that you are monitored by a healthcare provider. This chart – created by the American Stroke Association and American Heart Association – outlines the categories of high blood pressure.

Once you know your blood pressure, what steps should you take to monitor your health? Here are some recommendations to discuss with your healthcare provider:

  • Normal blood pressure (less than 120/80) – Have your blood pressure checked at least every two years or as frequently as your healthcare provider recommends.
  • Borderline high pressure or prehypertension (between 120/80 and 139/89) – Check your blood pressure at least every year, or more often, if your healthcare provider recommends it. If you have other medical issues, even a borderline reading may be considered too high.
  • 140/90 or higher – You have high blood pressure and need to see your healthcare provider to develop a treatment plan.

Tips for Taking Your Blood Pressure
Want to monitor your blood pressure between appointments with your healthcare provider? This can be a good way to ensure your blood pressure is at healthy levels.

Many pharmacies have blood pressure monitors or you may want to invest in a home blood pressure monitor kit. Either way, use the same monitor each time you take your blood pressure.

Here are some hints for taking your blood pressure:

  • Always use the same arm and place the cuff on bare skin.
  • Take up to three readings each time to ensure accuracy.
  • Measure before eating and exercising but not right after you wake up.
  • No caffeine, food, alcohol or tobacco 30 minutes before taking your blood pressure.

Look at Your Lifestyle
If you smoke, giving up tobacco is a good way to lower your blood pressure and improve your overall health. If you consume alcohol, do it in moderation. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular aerobic exercise are also good lifestyle habits that can help reduce your blood pressure.