More than 120 million Americans have high blood pressure according to the CDC and 11 million of them don’t know it. If left untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. February is American Heart Month, and the American Heart Association wants you to know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, resulting in more than 900,000 lives lost each year.
“High blood pressure is known as ‘the silent killer’ because often there are no symptoms,” says Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, vice president and senior medical director at Univera Healthcare. “It’s important for everyone to check their blood pressure regularly and know their blood pressure numbers and what they mean.”
While blood pressure is checked at most medical appointments, it also can be checked anytime using the free and automated blood pressure screening stations found at many pharmacies and grocery stores. In addition, affordable and accurate blood pressure monitors for home use can be purchased at many drug stores.
Blood pressure readings produce two numbers. The first is the systolic pressure, indicating the pressure the blood is putting on the artery walls during each beat of the heart. The second is the diastolic blood pressure, indicating the pressure between beats. Normal blood pressure is considered less than 120 over 80, presented as 120/80. People with higher numbers should speak with their health care provider about their risk for high blood pressure and its dangerous complications.
Lifestyle changes and medication can keep blood pressure under control. Lifestyle changes include eating a healthy diet, keeping a healthy weight, being physically active, not smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and getting enough sleep.
“High blood pressure is manageable, but only if diagnosed and then addressed,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick.
The New York State Department of Health found that non-Hispanic Black adults and adults with an annual household income of less than $25,000 are more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, but less likely to be taking medication to manage the disease. “This highlights the need for targeted screening programs in underserved parts of our community,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick.
In 2023, a Univera Healthcare Health Equity Award supported the Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) Foundation’s Remote Patient Monitoring Program to improve blood pressure screening among the city of Buffalo’s most vulnerable residents, and get them started on treatment, if necessary.
“High blood pressure may be one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease, but it is also the most preventable risk factor,” says Dr. Fitzpatrick.
The CDC offers information on high blood pressure at www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure.
Univera Healthcare is a nonprofit health plan that serves members across the eight counties of Western New York. With more than 500 Buffalo-based employees and a local leadership team, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. Univera is part of a Rochester-based health insurer that serves more than 1.5 million members across upstate New York. Its mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care, and its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. To learn more, visit UniveraHealthcare.com.