Health & Wellness

6 Myths About High Blood Pressure You Need to Know

It affects millions—and yet because it’s typically asymptomatic, you may have hypertension without even realizing it.
Sphygmomanometer and stethoscope on aqua background

Photo credit: Sherry Yates Young/Shutterstock.com

Hallie Levine

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Hallie Levine,   

Feb 15, 2020 • 6 min read

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You may joke about something sending your blood pressure through the roof—like tripping over your kids’ shoes in the hallway again or the car that cut you off on your way to work this morning. But high blood pressure is no laughing matter, and can lead to life-threatening complications like a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, and more if not managed properly. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), nearly half of all U.S. adults (an estimated 103 million) have high blood pressure. Even scarier, research published in Circulation found that only half of those with high blood pressure have it under control, making them more at-risk for complications.

With such prevalence in the population, if you don’t think high blood pressure is something you need to worry about, it’s time to think again. Read on for six common myths that may be preventing you from getting the diagnosis and care that you need.

Myth #1: I feel fine, so I don’t have to worry.

Research published in the American Journal of Hypertension suggests that up to half of people who have high blood pressure don’t even realize it. “It’s often called ‘the silent killer’ for good reason—it’s usually completely symptomless while doing damage to your arteries, heart, and other organs,” explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Women’s Heart Program at NYU Langone Health in New York City. In very severe cases—known as hypertensive emergencies—it can cause symptoms like headache, dizziness, trouble seeing, and chest pain—but most of the time there are no signs.

This doesn’t mean you have to panic if you do in fact feel fine, but you should make sure you’re staying on top of your annual physical exam so your doctor can check your blood pressure. 

Myth #2: I don’t have a family history of high blood pressure, so I’m good.

While it’s true that genes play a role in hypertension, plenty of other factors—like being overweight, smoking, eating a poor diet, being a couch potato, or simply imbibing a bit too much—contribute too. “You don’t automatically land a ‘get out of jail free card’ because your genetics are good,” says Dr. Goldberg. Even if you’re otherwise healthy, it’s important to keep tabs on your blood pressure by getting it regularly checked.

Myth #3: A blood pressure at or just under 140/90 is OK.

Actually, it’s not. The AHA and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) updated its blood pressure guidelines in 2017. Now, anything above 130/80 is considered elevated, with the ideal being under 120/80. “We now know that a blood pressure level between 130-139/80-89 mm Hg doubles your risk of cardiovascular complications such as a heart attack, compared to people whose blood pressure is under 120/80,” says Dr. Goldberg. “The damage to blood vessels begins soon after blood pressure is elevated.” If your blood pressure is above 120/80, don’t panic—simply talk to your doctor about what you can do to bring it down.

Myth #4: If you have high blood pressure, you must go on medication.

Wrong. The AHA doesn’t even recommend most people go on blood pressure drugs until they have stage two hypertension, which is classified as at or above 140/90. “If your blood pressure is under that, but still high, your doctor should counsel you about lifestyle measures like losing weight, eating a low-salt diet, and regular exercise,” says Dr. Goldberg. And good news: You don’t have to have dramatic, Biggest Loser-style weight loss to see results. One review published in Cochrane found that people who lose just nine pounds could see their blood pressure drop by about five points. Even just moderate exercise—40 minutes three to four times a week—can also lower blood pressure, regardless of whether you lose weight or not. 

More proof in the power of lifestyle: A Johns Hopkins University study of more than 400 adults with early high blood pressure found that combining a low-salt diet with the heart-healthy DASH diet (a meal plan rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low or fat-free dairy, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts,) lowered blood pressure as much as medication.

If your doctor does decide to treat you with blood pressure medication, which may include drugs like bumetanide (Bumex) or chlorthalidone (Hygroton), make sure to check Blink Health to see if you can get your prescription for less and with free home delivery.

Myth #5: I don’t need to stress about sodium because I don’t use table salt.

Unfortunately, you’re probably still getting more salt than you need, and this can result in excess water in the body that your kidneys can’t remove, leading to high blood pressure. Up to 75 percent of the sodium we consume is hidden in processed foods like sauces, salad dressings, soups, and prepared foods, according to the AHA. You can still eat these things, but train yourself to become a food label sleuth. Check for the total number of sodium mg, not the percent daily value, which can be misleading. "The percentages are based on a recommendation of 2300 mg of sodium per day, but most people over the age of 50 and anyone who already has high blood pressure should aim for less than 1500 mg daily,” explains Dr. Goldberg. Oh, and sorry—that fancy organic sea salt you cook with isn’t any better than the stuff found in a diner saltshaker when it comes to your blood pressure. “Salt is salt, no matter where it comes from,” says Dr. Goldberg.

Myth #6: My blood pressure is fine in my doctor’s office, so I don’t have to be worried.

About 12 percent of all American adults experience masked hypertension, a condition where your blood pressure is normal at your doctor’s office but higher out of it, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. If you’re in your 20s or 30s with borderline blood pressure, over the age of 40, or have risk factors for high blood pressure such as being overweight or obese, it’s a good idea to occasionally check your blood pressure on your own, says Dr. Goldberg. You can do this with a home blood pressure monitor, or at any place that offers blood pressure screenings, such as your local pharmacy.

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This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.

Blink Health is not insurance. The discount prescription drug provider is Blink Health Administration, LLC, 1407 Broadway, Suite 2100, New York, NY 10018, 1 (844) 265-6444, www.blinkhealth.com.

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