What is high blood pressure and how can you manage it?

High blood pressure is one of the most common diseases in the world. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and other complications if left untreated. The best way to lower your health risk is to learn what blood pressure is and why managing high blood pressure levels should be a top priority.

This presentation was given by the following members of the DMU Internal Medicine Club: Daniel Burris, D.O.’24, Michael Munafo, D.O.’24, and Branden Moreau, D.O.’24

What is blood pressure?

Simply put, blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. It’s measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and it can be high, normal, or low. When your blood pressure is high, it means that the force of your blood flow is too strong for your artery walls. This can damage your blood vessels and organs over time.

Blood pressure consists of two separate numbers, a systolic pressure and a diastolic pressure.

  • Systolic blood pressure (the first and higher number) measures the pressure inside your arteries when the heart beats.
  • Diastolic blood pressure (the second and lower number) measures the pressure inside the artery when the heart rests between beats.

What causes high blood pressure?

We typically define high blood pressure as having the systolic blood pressure (the first number) being greater than 130, or the diastolic pressure (the second number) being greater than 80. 45.4% of adults over the age of 18 in the United States have high blood pressure. It’s a very common issue and it’s a huge burden on our health system.

There are several risk factors that can cause high blood pressure, including:

  1. Obesity
  2. Lack of exercise
  3. Smoking
  4. Stress
  5. Eating too much salt or processed foods
  6. Drinking too much alcohol

High blood pressure puts you at an increased risk for heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and heart attack. If you’re at risk for high blood pressure, it’s important to make lifestyle changes to lower your chances of developing the disease. Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise are all key ways to help manage high blood pressure levels.

How can I lower my high blood pressure?

Managing high blood pressure is critical for maintaining your health. Some people are more likely to develop high blood pressure than others, but there are steps you can take to help lower your risk. There are many things you can do to help manage high blood pressure, including lifestyle changes and medications.

Lifestyle Changes

There are many things you can do to help manage high blood pressure, including:

  1. Eating a healthy diet: Cut back on sodium and incorporate nutrient-dense foods, especially ones high in specific nutrients like potassium and magnesium.
  2. Exercising regularly: Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger, which enables your heart to pump more blood throughout your body with less strain and effort.
  3. Quitting smoking: The nicotine found in tobacco damages the insides of your blood vessels, reducing the amount of oxygen your heart can receive. This, in turn, makes the heart work harder in order to get the appropriate levels of oxygen your body needs to function.
  4. Reducing stress levels: When your body is under constant stress, your heart beats faster and your blood vessels constrict. Breathing exercises, meditation, tai chi and yoga are all great ways to manage stress levels and keep your heart rate down.


If you try these lifestyle changes and your blood pressure is still not where you or your doctor would like it to be, there are a lot of medication options that you can discuss with your doctor.

How to check blood pressure at home

Most likely you only get your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office each year at your annual wellness exam. And that definitely helps your doctor keep a good record of how your blood pressure is over the long term, but it is just a snapshot of what’s going on. So getting a simple blood pressure monitor can help you keep track of your blood pressure at home as well.

These machines are very simple to use and are relatively inexpensive. You just put the cuff on and press a button and it will take your blood pressure for you. You then can keep a blood pressure diary and log your blood pressure multiple times a day over a long period of time which you can share with your doctor to give them much more detail to analyze.

The expert family medicine providers at the Des Moines University Clinic can help you lower your blood pressure and form positive lifestyle changes to keep you at your best. For more information or to make an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website or call 515-271-1710.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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