Healthy Tahoe: Importance of blood pressure screenings

Kimberly Orta, FNP-C

February is American Heart Month, and now more than ever, is a good time to focus on your heart health as people with poor cardiovascular health have an increased risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. A key component to maintaining a healthy heart is regular blood pressure screenings.

Kimberly Orta

Importance of Blood Pressure Screenings

High blood pressure has no symptoms, and uncontrolled or undetected high blood pressure can have dangerous consequences. Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, and many don’t know it. Regular screening for high blood pressure should begin at age 20 and continue at least once every one to two years if the reading is normal. If blood pressure is not normal, more frequent monitoring is needed. More often than not, blood pressure is checked every time you have a medical appointment.

Risk factors for developing high blood pressure include: diabetes, male gender, race, ethnicity, advancing age, kidney disease, sleep apnea, an unhealthy diet, being overweight, smoking cigarettes/ exposure to secondhand smoke, family history, and physical inactivity.

What is blood pressure and what do the numbers mean?

Using a blood pressure cuff/sphygmomanometer, blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg. The systolic blood pressure (top number) is a measurement of the pressure exerted against the walls of the arteries when your heart is contracting (beating). The diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) is the measurement of the pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries when the heart is in a relaxed state (between beats).

What happens if high blood pressure is left untreated?

Recent studies have shown the risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease doubles for every 20mmHg or 10 mmHg increase in people ages 40-89. The damage done to your body from high blood pressure over time may also cause kidney failure, heart failure, angina, loss of vision from damage to the blood vessels in your eyes, sexual dysfunction (i.e.; erectile dysfunction), and peripheral artery disease (PAD).

Blood pressure readings: What is normal and abnormal?

Hypertensive Crisis along with symptoms: What to do

If your blood pressure is 180/120 or higher, and you are having chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, headache, numbness, difficulty speaking, or a change in vision, sit down and call 911 immediately.

What can you do to help achieve a normal blood pressure?

High blood pressure can be controlled with medication, or it can often be reduced with lifestyle changes or modifications. Key factors you can change to lower your blood pressure include:

●Eating a heart-healthy diet, like the DASH diet (talk to your health care provider before starting a special diet)

●Exercise regularly

●Maintain a healthy weight

●Do not smoke/ quit smoking

●Drink alcohol in moderation

And finally, scheduling your regular wellness visits with your health care provider and getting regular blood pressure screenings.

Kimberly Orta is a Family Nurse Practitioner with Barton Community Health Center. Schedule your annual wellness exam with your health care provider’s office, or learn more about Barton’s team of Primary Care Providers at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.