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What to Know About High Blood Pressure

While high blood pressure can lead to serious health problems, it’s also very treatable. Our medical director, Dr. Lindsay Carter, gives you the facts and tips you need to know.

Q&A with Dr. Lindsay Carter

Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure. And many don’t even have symptoms, making it even more of a health concern. In this chat with Dr. Carter, learn why high blood pressure is a problem and what you can do about it. 

What is blood pressure?
It’s the pressure your blood puts on your blood vessels as it flows through them. The higher it is, the harder your blood is pushing against your blood vessels.

Why is high blood pressure a concern?
Because it damages your blood vessels. Instead of being strong, flexible, and smooth, they get weak, stiff, and uneven.

That can cause serious problems. Weak blood vessels can burst. Stiff blood vessels make your heart work harder and can lead to heart failure. And uneven blood vessels can get clogged by fats, leading to heart attack or stroke.

How would I know if I had high blood pressure?
You might not! We call it the “silent killer” because you may not have symptoms. That’s why we want our members to get their blood pressure checked at least once a year. Get it checked more often if your blood pressure is above what’s considered healthy.

What’s a healthy blood pressure? What’s high?
Blood pressure has 2 numbers and when we read it, we say something like, “Your blood pressure is 130 over 80.” Both numbers are important.

Your blood pressure is healthy if the first number is less than 120 AND the second number is less than 80. So, 115 over 75? Healthy!

Your blood pressure is high if the first number is more than 129 OR the second number is more than 89. So, 135 over 75? High. 115 over 95? Also high. (The bolded number is what makes it high.) 

If you fall in the middle, like 125 over 80, we say your blood pressure is elevated. It’s not quite high, but you want to keep an eye on it. 

Should everyone aim for a blood pressure less than 120 over 80?
Not quite. Broadly speaking, it’s true that we say a blood pressure less than 120 over 80 is healthy. But your personal blood pressure goal depends on things like your age and any medical issues you might have.

For most people, we aim for blood pressure below 140 over 90. The best thing you can do is ask your doctor about your personal blood pressure goal.

If I have high blood pressure, what can I do?
Talk to your doctor. High blood pressure is very treatable. In some cases, you may need to change how you eat and get more physical activity. In others, you might also need medication. 

Your doctor may also suggest you regularly check your blood pressure at home with an over-the-counter (OTC) blood pressure cuff. If you don’t have one, you may be able to use your plan’s OTC allowance to buy one online. If you need any help, call us at 1-800-338-6833 (TTY 711).  

The Takeaway

High blood pressure can lead to serious problems like heart attack and stroke. But you can do a lot to prevent and treat it. Here are some key tips to keep in mind:

  1. Talk to your doctor to learn your blood pressure goal
  2. Get your blood pressure checked 2-3 times a year (even if you think you’re fine)
  3. You can keep your blood pressure in check by working closely with your doctor

This article is for general reference only. Always talk to your doctor or other health professional for medical advice.