An estimated 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, also called hypertension, according to a 2013 article published in the American Heart Association's journal, "Circulation." Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure -- when the heart is contracted -- of at least 140 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure -- when the heart relaxes -- of at least 90 mmHg. Untreated high blood pressure damages the vital organs of the body and increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, so it's important to get this condition diagnosed and treated. Unfortunately, high blood pressure is not well understood and some people may not seek medical advice as early as they should because they believe the common myths about the condition.
Myth: "I Would Know"
Many people believe they would have symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, nosebleeds, flushing of the face, sweating or anxiety, if they had high blood pressure. The Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure cautioned in a 2003 report that approximately 30 percent of adults with hypertension are unaware of their condition because they feel relatively well. By the time they begin to have symptoms, generally when their blood pressure reaches at least 180/100 mmHg, damage to the heart, eyes, blood vessels and other organs has already happened.
Myth: "I Can't Prevent It"
Some people have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, including those with a family history of hypertension, those over 65 and certain racial and ethnic groups. But living a healthy lifestyle can prevent or at least delay the development of high blood pressure. Maintaining a normal weight, exercising at least 30 minutes most days of the week, and following a low-fat, high-produce, low-sodium diet can help to prevent or delay hypertension. Other helpful measures include avoiding smoking, reducing stress, and limiting alcohol to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. Lifestyle changes also reduce the risk of heart disease and improve the effectiveness of medications if you already have hypertension.
Myth: "I Don't Need to Check Blood Pressure at Home"
At-home blood pressure readings can provide valuable information to health care providers. In some cases, at-home readings are lower than those taken at the doctor's office, a phenomenon called "white-coat hypertension." This phenomenon affects as many as 10 to 20 percent of those with high blood pressure, according to a September 2008 article published in the "Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine." In those situations, the treatment plan may be considered effective if at-home readings are within the target range set by the health care provider, even if in-office readings are still high.
At-home readings are also useful for doctors to evaluate how effective medications are. Your doctor may need to adjust your medications if you do not reach your target level of less than 140/90 mmHg. According to the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure, as many as 2/3 of patients on medication fall into this category and need adjustments to their treatment plans.
Myth: "Coffee Causes High Blood Pressure"
While diet and lifestyle affect blood pressure, research suggests the effects of caffeine on the body may only be temporary. So, avoiding caffeine before having your blood pressure checked may improve the accuracy of the reading but long-term effects may be seen only in those who drink 5 cups or more of coffee a day. Dietary changes that help reduce high blood pressure include increasing fruits and vegetables and reducing the amount of salt and fat consumed each day. Low-salt diets seem to be more effective in reducing blood pressure in African Americans than in other population groups, according to the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure.
- American Heart Association: What Are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?
- American Heart Association: Myths About High Blood Pressure
- Heart & Stroke Foundation: Five Common Myths About High Blood Pressure
- Cleveland Clinic: Myths About Hypertension
- Hypertension: Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure
- Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine: What Is the Proper Workup of a Patient With Hypertension?
Circulation: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics -- 2013 Update