Under the new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, you may find yourself among the nearly half of all American adults who are now considered to have high blood pressure, or hypertension — a major risk factor for heart disease. You might think that picking up a wearable device that monitors your blood pressure at home and on the go is a logical way to get back on track, but the first step to addressing high blood pressure should be checking in with your doctor.
While wearable devices like smartwatches and activity trackers that monitor heart rate and blood pressure are growing in popularity, Dr. Levy still prefers the tried-and-true blood pressure cuffs. “It’s early in the development cycle of wearables and there’s some tweaking that needs to be done,” said Levy. He says wearables have a lot of potential in terms of relaying blood pressure readings on-demand and easily sharing readings with doctors, but warns they are susceptible to malfunctions.
According to Dr. Levy, about one in three adults suffer from high blood pressure, but only about half of those people have it under control. Now that the definition of “normal” blood pressure is stricter — under 120/80 — hypertension is more actively being flagged as a risk for cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes.
If you are diagnosed with hypertension, Dr. Levy recommends asking your doctor how often you should check your blood pressure and what steps you should take to lower it. In some cases, more regular readings at home are useful between doctor visits.
“For some patients I recommend they get a home blood pressure monitor,” said Dr. Levy, “any drug store will have options available for sale over the counter.” To be safe, he suggests bringing your home monitor to the doctor’s office at least once a year to have it calibrated.
One of the greatest advantages of at-home monitoring is the insight it can provide into how medication or lifestyle changes are impacting your blood pressure. “One of the takeaways of the new guidelines is that most patients with high blood pressure should start by making lifestyle changes,” said Dr. Levy. Those changes, which will benefit your heart health in general, include:
- Eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. Examples include leafy greens, fish, beets and beans.
- Exercising and maintaining a healthy weight
- Quitting smoking
- Limiting alcohol use
If lifestyle changes don’t do the trick, there are also a number of effective hypertension medications your provider can recommend.
Remember: hypertension is a very treatable condition. If you have any concerns about your blood pressure, speak with your Lahey Health physician.