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New Ulm Medical Center

You can have hypertension and not know it

Think you have to be tense or nervous to send your blood pressure soaring? Think again. You can have high blood pressure – or hypertension – and be calm and relaxed, said Matthew Lieser, MD, an internal medicine physician, who started at New Ulm Medical Center in September.

About one in three American adults has high blood pressure, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

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Matthew Lieser, MD

People with high blood pressure may have frequent headaches, vision changes, numbness, chest pain or shortness of breath.

However, most people who have high blood pressure don’t feel it. “For the vast majority of people there are no symptoms,” Lieser said. “That’s why it is important to get your blood pressure checked regularly, even if you’re feeling fine.”

In many cases, by the time you develop symptoms, “the damage has already been done,” he said.

How blood pressure is measured

A blood pressure cuff is used to measure your pressure – the force of blood against the walls of your arteries. Your blood pressure is measured by two numbers:

  • Systolic pressure is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, when your heart muscle contracts. This is the top number in your blood pressure reading.
  • Diastolic pressure is the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats – when your heart muscle is resting between beats and is refilling with blood. This is the lower of the two numbers in your blood pressure reading.

Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor for five minutes before you take your blood pressure. “You need to feel moderately relaxed so you can get an accurate reading,” Lieser said.

For most people, a normal reading is 120/80 or less, Lieser said.

“When your blood pressure is up to 140/90, we call it pre-hypertension,” he said. “If you have prehypertension, you should make lifestyle changes to get it under control.”

Consider lifestyle changes

These lifestyle changes can help you control your blood pressure:

  • Limit your salt (sodium) intake. Buy fresh, frozen or canned vegetables with no salt added. Use herbs and spices instead of salt when cooking and to season your food at the table. Rinse canned foods to remove some of the salt.
  • Limit your alcohol intake – no more than one drink for women and one or two for men daily.
  • If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. “Eat a well-balanced diet,” Lieser said. Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean meats, fish and poultry and low-fat dairy products. Use healthy vegetable fats such as olive and canola oil sparingly. Avoid processed foods and unhealthy animal fats.
  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. Strength training can increase muscle mass and help you to lose weight.
  • Get adequate amounts of Vitamin D. Research shows Vitamin D can play a role in regulating your blood pressure, Lieser said. Vitamin D is found in fortified foods as well as in salmon, tuna, eggs and mushrooms.

If you can’t control your blood pressure with lifestyle changes, you may need prescription medications. “The good news is we have a lot of blood pressure medications. That allows us to tailor medications to each patient,” Lieser said.

Health risks

Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to a stroke or aneurysm – a weak area in a blood vessel that is enlarged and that can burst.

High blood pressure also can cause tears in blood vessels that scar. The scars can trap plaque and other debris, leading to a heart attack. Plaque can also accumulate and cut off the supply of blood to vital organs such as the kidneys or brain. High blood pressure also can cause damage to the eyes, Lieser noted.

Once you are diagnosed with hypertension, work with your doctor to monitor your condition. Check your blood pressure at home regularly. Record the results and share them with your doctor.

“If you check your blood pressure at home and it’s consistently high, let your doctor know,” Lieser said.

Learn more about hypertension

For more information about hypertension and many other health conditions, go to To make an appointment with Matthew Lieser, MD, board-certified in internal medicine call 507-217-5011.

Source: New Ulm Medical Center
Reviewed by: Matthew Lieser, MD
First Published: 12/12/2012
Last Reviewed: 12/12/2012