Heart attack. Stroke. Kidney disease. Vision loss. Sexual dysfunction.

These are some of the problems you face if your blood pressure gets too high.

It’s important to note that high blood pressure comes without symptoms. You don’t feel a thing. Meanwhile, your arteries, heart and other organs are being damaged.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is very common. The American Heart Association reports nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure and many don’t even know it. This is why it is often called the “silent killer.”

When your blood pressure is high for too long, it damages your blood vessels and puts you at greater risk for developing life-changing and life-threatening conditions.

So how do you know if you have high blood pressure?

Most of the time, high blood pressure has no obvious symptoms to let you know that something is wrong. The only way to know is to have your doctor check. Don’t skip a visit to your doctor just because you feel fine.

If your doctor finds that your blood pressure is normal, have it checked again in a year at your annual wellness checkup. If it’s high, your doctor may want you to regularly measure it at home to get an assessment of the pressure over time.

You can purchase a blood pressure monitor at your local pharmacy or online. Look for one with a cuff that fits around your arm. This website lists blood pressure measurement devices that have been validated for clinical accuracy. For at least 30 minutes before checking your blood pressure, don’t smoke, drink caffeine or exercise.

Once you have the monitor and are checking your numbers at home, bring the monitor with you to your next appointment with your doctor.

What is considered high blood pressure?

If you didn’t have high blood pressure before, you might now, according to new guidelines released by the American Heart Association. High blood pressure now begins with a reading of 130/80, instead of 140/90.

Blood pressure is considered elevated at 120-129/80, and the normal blood pressure range is less than 120/80.

The revised guidelines offer an opportunity to make healthier lifestyle choices. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and blood pressure medication based on your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Blood Pressure Readings Chart

The above chart is from the American Heart Association site.

What can you do to control your blood pressure?

If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure — or if you’d like to live a healthier lifestyle and keep blood pressure low — there are things you can do to stay healthy.

The American Heart Association offers five steps to control your blood pressure:

  • Know your numbers. Most people diagnosed with high blood pressure want to stay below 130/90 mm Hg, but your healthcare provider can tell you your personal target blood pressure.
  • Work with your doctor. Your healthcare provider will help you make a plan to lower your blood pressure.
  • Make a few lifestyle changes. In many cases this will be your doctor’s first recommendation, likely in one of these areas:
    • Maintain a healthy weight. Strive for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.
    • Eat healthier. Eat lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and less saturated and total fat.
    • Reduce sodium. Stay under 1,500 mg a day, which is associated with the greatest reduction in blood pressure.
    • Get active. Exercise for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3-4 times per week.
    • Lower stress levels.
    • If you smoke, quit.
    • Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day or less for women, and 2 drinks a day or less for men.
    • Limit caffeine to less than 2-3 cups of coffee a day.
  • Check your blood pressure at home.
  • Take any medication prescribed by your doctor.

Since there are often no obvious symptoms, many people with high blood pressure don’t even know they have it. Schedule a visit with your doctor to have your blood pressure checked.

Fortunately, high blood pressure can be brought under control through healthy lifestyle choices and, when needed, medication. It’s worth the effort.