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Why it's "vitally important" to monitor your blood pressure

If you, like me, only get your blood pressure checked during the occasional doctor's visit, then you may want to read this Stanford BeWell Q&A with Kathy Berra, clinical director of the Stanford Heart Network. In it, Berra describes how monitoring your blood pressure can help prevent heart attack, stroke, heart failure and kidney failure.

As Berra also notes in the piece, "approximately 30% of the American adult population has high blood pressure," and the "American Heart Association estimates that 90% of all American adults are at risk for elevated blood pressure during their lifetime." She recommends that people self-monitor, and she goes on to offer advice on how to do so and to explain what the numbers mean:

Both the top and bottom numbers are important to watch. The top number is called systolic blood pressure — the pressure exerted by the heart when it squeezes to pump blood to the rest of the body. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure in your vascular system (blood vessels) during the phase when the heart is resting. You want to make sure the heart only pumps as hard as it needs to pump to get blood out to your body, and you need to control the pressure exerted against the heart when it is trying to rest. Therefore, both numbers are important. The number that generally guides medication management is the top number, or the systolic blood pressure.

More than half of all heart attacks, strokes and heart failure cases in the United States are caused by high blood pressure, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. This week, Stanford interventional cardiologist William Fearon, MD, is taking questions about cardiovascular research, including advancements in diagnosing, treating and preventing heart disease and stroke, via our @SUMedicine Twitter feed and comments section on Scope.

Previously: Ask Stanford Med: Stanford interventional cardiologist taking questions on heart health and Stanford Hospital & Clinics introduces month-long heart health challenge
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