St. Mark's Hospital - March 18, 2019

How low are your blood pressure numbers? If you don't have a clue, or if they're not where your doctor would like them to be, it's time to start paying closer attention.

Your blood pressure is the second most important set of numbers you should know (after your significant other's birthday and your anniversary), because few things age your body as quickly or as dramatically as high blood pressure does. Having high numbers makes you part of a real national health epidemic — one that will be responsible for more than 60,000 deaths this year in the United States.

But if you know your numbers and have a goal level, you can start aiming for lower readings and start doing more of the things that we know help people reach their blood pressure goals.

Looking for a cause

There are a lot of things we can blame high blood pressure on: the dollar menu at the corner fast food joint, the burden of pending mortgage payments, our family heritage. And it's true that things like these — poor diet, stress and genetics — can play a role. So can a lack of exercise.

But there are also changes that happen inside your body that can lead to high blood pressure. And you may never know the real reason your numbers are high.

But here's what is certain: how to treat it. First, eat a DASH-style diet. Second, take a daily walk if your doctor okays it. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to help lower your numbers. And there are more medication options than ever before to help you do this job.

In fact, there are at least 10 major classes of blood pressure pills available today, including the newest class of medication that targets a chemical system responsible for the normal rising and falling of blood pressure — called the renin system. In some people, the renin system is too active, and that can lead to high blood pressure.

Your doctor may even start you on more than one type of pill, because combining pills can work in different ways at lower doses, maximizing benefits while minimizing side effects.

Whatever course of action you and your doctor decide is right for you, you need to stick with it. And if your numbers aren't budging, you need to do more. Aim lower. Every point drop in blood pressure could mean that much more health, that much more life and that much less risk for high blood pressure dangers like erectile dysfunction, poor quality orgasms, kidney failure or even the big ones, heart attack and stroke.

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