When you were diagnosed with diabetes, you were most likely told about the importance of monitoring your blood glucose levels, given or prescribed a blood glucose meter, taught how to use it, and given target blood glucose goals.
But you probably weren’t told about monitoring your blood pressure at home, even though maintaining a healthy blood pressure level is an important part of preventing long-term diabetes complications. For many people, monitoring at home provides the feedback they need to reach blood pressure goals.
Multiple large studies have shown that effective diabetes management reduces the risk of diabetes complications. These studies have demonstrated that managing not just blood glucose, but also blood pressure and lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), leads to the lowest risk of complications such as heart disease. (For information about blood glucose, blood pressure, and blood lipids targets, see “The ABCs of Diabetes.”) Some of these conditions may stem from high blood pressure and lipids even more so than from high blood glucose.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood in your arteries, the vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Your blood pressure is higher when your heart beats and lower when your heart is between beats. That’s why a blood pressure measurement has two parts: systolic pressure (the first number), the force during a heartbeat; and diastolic pressure (the second number), the force when the heart is at rest. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury, abbreviated “mm Hg.”
Everyone needs a certain level of blood pressure to survive, but high blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is damaging to the body. The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes maintain blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg.
The silent killer
Two out of three people with diabetes have high blood pressure, compared with one out of three American adults generally. Having diabetes also raises the risk of future high blood pressure.
High blood pressure increases the workload on the heart to maintain the body’s necessary blood flow. Not only does it cause the heart to pump harder, it also puts greater strain on the arteries. High blood pressure often causes no symptoms, but if left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems such as stroke, congestive heart failure, heart attack, and kidney failure.
If no measures are put in place to monitor your heart health, a “cardiovascular event” such as a heart attack can seem to occur out of the blue. According to the American Heart Association, about 310,000 people die suddenly each year of coronary heart disease without ever being hospitalized or even admitted to an emergency room. Monitoring your blood pressure at home, recording the results, and showing them to your doctor at regular appointments may help to reduce your risk of sudden death, since any signs of trouble can be noted and treated early.
Call to action
In view of the lifesaving possibilities of checking blood pressure at home, the American Heart Association, the American Society for Hypertension, and the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association issued a joint statement in May 2008 recommending that all people with known or suspected high blood pressure do it. The statement was published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.