Article/picture courtesy of CDC (

May is High Blood Pressure Education Month, and it’s a good time to find out how to “make control your goal.”

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force of blood on the walls of your blood vessels as blood flows through them. Blood pressure has two numbers, systolic and diastolic, and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Systolic pressure is the force on the blood vessel walls when the heart beats and pumps blood out of the heart. Diastolic pressure is the force that occurs when the heart relaxes in between beats.

One of three American adults has high blood pressure, also called hypertension. That’s 67 million people who have to work to keep their blood pressure in check each day. Unfortunately, more than half of people with high blood pressure do not have their condition under control.

Keep it down in there!

Having the highest score is good in many things, but not with blood pressure—the higher your numbers, the more serious the condition.

You may not have any symptoms of high blood pressure, but it can damage your health in many ways. For instance, it can harden the arteries, decreasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and brain. This reduced flow can cause—

  • A heart attack, which occurs when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle cells die from a lack of oxygen.

  • A stroke, which can occur when arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain become blocked or burst.

  • Chest pain, also called angina.

  • Heart failure, which occurs when the heart can’t pump enough blood and oxygen to other organs.

Make control your goal

Of the 67 million American adults who have high blood pressure, 16 million know that they have the condition and are getting treatment, but their blood pressure still remains higher than it should be. For these individuals, awareness and treatment are not enough—that’s why CDC is asking patients, families, and health care professionals to “make control the goal.”

If you have high blood pressure, there are steps you can take to get it under control, including—

  • Ask your doctor what your blood pressure should be. Set a goal to lower your pressure with your doctor and then discuss how you can reach your goal. Work with your doctor to make sure you meet that goal.

  • Take your blood pressure medication as directed. If you are having trouble, ask your doctor what you can do to make it easier. For example, you may want to discuss your medication schedule with your doctor if you are taking multiple drugs at different times of the day. Or you may want to discuss side effects you are feeling, or the cost of your medicine.

  • Quit smoking—and if you don’t smoke, don’t start. You can find tips and resources at CDC’s Smoking and Tobacco Web site or Be Tobacco Free Web site.

  • Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume too much sodium, and it raises their risk for high blood pressure. Learn about tips to reduce your sodium.

There are other healthy habits, in addition to taking your medication that can help keep your blood pressure under control—

  • Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Participate in 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.

  • Eat a healthy diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium, saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.

  • Manage stress.

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink (no more than one drink each day for women and two for men).

If you have a family member who has high blood pressure, you can help by taking many of the steps listed above with them. Go for walks together or cook meals with lower sodium. Make it a family affair!

Is my blood pressure under control?

Blood pressure is considered normal when systolic pressure (the higher number) is less than 120 mmHg and diastolic pressure (the lower number) is less than 80 mmHg. People at risk for high blood pressure, often called prehypertension, have systolic pressure between 120 and 139 mmHg or diastolic between 80 and 89 mmHg. High blood pressure means systolic pressure is 140 mmHg or higher or diastolic is 90 mmHg or higher. Talk with your health care team about your personal blood pressure goal.

Helping patients make control their goal

If you are a doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care provider you can help your patients bring their blood pressure under control. Keep the conversation going with your patients about properly taking medications. Not taking blood pressure medications as directed may be one reason why some patients don’t have their blood pressure under control. Some common barriers include—

  • Cost of the medication.

  • Side effects.

  • Insufficient doctor-patient communication.

  • Lack of patient involvement in the treatment plan.

  • Schedule for taking drugs is too complicated.

To help address these barriers, talk to your patients every time they come in about their blood pressure goals and the medications they are taking. Medications that are cheaper or more convenient to take may help some patients achieve control and they may benefit from knowing about drug discount programs that could help offset cost or taking a generic drug. For patients on more than one medication, a simplified schedule to once-a-day dosing may be the key.

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open so that patients feel comfortable voicing their concerns. If lifestyle behaviors, such as tobacco use or unhealthy weight, also play a role, talk to the patient about healthy habits that can make a difference. Hearing it from you may have more effect than you think.

Improvements in health information technology, such as electronic health records with clinical decision support and physician reminders can also help improve treatment and control. If you don’t have an electronic health record system, keep lists to track your patients with high blood pressure and reach out to them to check on their progress. Working as a health care team, with the support of doctors, nurses, and pharmacists together can help improve preventive care delivery and blood pressure control for patients.

When it comes to high blood pressure control, everyone has a role. Together, we can all make control our goal.