Everyone knows high blood pressure is bad for you. It increases your risk for all kinds of health conditions, ranging from heart attacks and strokes to vision problems, kidney disease and even dementia.
Because hypertension is so dangerous, you can’t ignore it, says Dr. Michael Hochman, a member of the American Heart Association’s Blood Pressure Task Force.
“It is critical that all of us get screened for elevated blood pressure,” he says.
However, a lot of myths still surround high blood pressure. Here are five of the most serious – and potentially deadly – misconceptions.
Myth No. 1: The symptoms of high blood pressure are obvious
Some people believe they can wait for screening until they experience symptoms of high blood pressure, such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing.
“Much more commonly, high blood pressure doesn't cause any symptoms at all,” Hochman says. For that reason, many experts to refer to it as the “silent killer.”
“That's why it is so important to get screened,” he says.
Myth No. 2: You can skip medicines once blood pressure is under control
Some patients begin taking an antihypertensive drug, but then drop it once their blood pressure is under control, Hochman says.
“While some people can eventually reduce or eliminate medication because of lifestyle changes, others may still need it,” he says.
Always check with your doctor before making any changes to your medications, he adds. “Stopping medications abruptly can have serious consequences,” he says.
Myth No. 3: Drinking red wine will lower my blood pressure
Millions of people subscribe to the wishful thinking that consuming several glasses of red wine daily is a great way to protect the heart.
However, the American Heart Association notes that drinking large amounts of alcohol dramatically raises blood pressure and boosts the risk of heart failure and other heart ailments.
The AHA says men should limit themselves to no more than two 4-ounce glasses of red wine per day, and women should limit themselves to no more than one glass.
Myth No. 4: It doesn’t matter how you take blood pressure
Monitoring your blood pressure – and making sure it goes no higher than the key reading of 130/80 – is crucial to maintaining good health.
“Knowing your numbers is an important step in controlling blood pressure,” Hochman says. “The best way to do that is to check it at home in addition to at your regular clinic visits.”
How you take blood pressure can impact the accuracy of the reading you get. To get a true reading, Hochman suggests the following:
- Empty your bladder
- Sit in a chair with your back and feet supported
- Support your arm on a chair or counter
- Place the cuff on your bare arm
- Make sure the cuff is the right size and fits properly
- Uncross your legs
- Don’t talk while taking the reading
Myth No. 5: Family history dooms your chances of fixing a blood pressure problem
Hochman strongly resists the notion that a family history of high blood pressure dooms you to the same fate. “That’s not true,” he says.
Instead, implement a healthy lifestyle to lower your blood pressure and reduce the risk for cardiovascular complications. Such steps include:
- Regular exercise
- Reducing stress
- Limiting salt in your diet
- Cutting back on processed foods
- Eating plenty of of fruits, vegetables and whole grains
“The lifestyle choices you make can influence your blood pressure, and the medications to manage it are very effective,” he says.