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Finding and treating a silent killer

You can’t see it. You can’t feel it. Yet it contributes to nearly 1,300 deaths a day across the U.S.

High blood pressure is a silent killer. Unaddressed, it can damage blood vessels and lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. With appropriate treatment—including diet, exercise, and medication when necessary—high blood pressure can be controlled.

Last spring, Vancouver Clinic launched a new program focused on high blood pressure. Helping patients control this important metric, and educating people about the condition, is part of our ongoing commitment to our community’s health.

More than 1 in 4 adults in Washington have high blood pressure, also called hypertension. Those with hypertension tend not to develop symptoms, which means it can easily go unnoticed. It’s usually detected when patients receive medical care or check for it at home. High blood pressure is relatively common and people often fail to realize how important it is. Because it may seem normal, they stop worrying about or treating it.

At Vancouver Clinic, we’re addressing hypertension on multiple fronts, starting with measurement. Accurate blood pressure readings are essential, helping us identify individuals who can benefit from more support. We’re providing additional training to all of our staff on how to obtain blood pressure readings. We advise patients who are monitoring blood pressure at home to use the same standards:

  • Try to avoid drinking caffeine, smoking, or exercising 30 minutes before measuring.
  • Relax quietly beforehand.
  • Sit upright with feet flat on the floor and the back supported.
  • Place the cuff over a bare arm and keep the cuffed arm on a flat surface at heart level.
  • Resist talking or scrolling on a phone.

As an organization, we’re also increasing communication of patient blood pressure information. For example, if an individual with a history of high blood pressure has a high reading while seeing a specialist, they will hear from one of our panel coordinators via a phone call, letter, or MyChart message. From there, staff will suggest whether they should see their managing provider, monitor blood pressure at home, or come in for a nurse visit.

Sometimes the patient may just need more education about lifestyle changes. Patients can better control blood pressure by adopting several habits:

  • Get regular exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Reduce salt intake.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Continue routine preventive care visits.

For many patients, these changes alone may not be sufficient to control blood pressure. In these cases, medications are a valuable tool. Taking a prescription as directed is sometimes necessary to make a significant impact on blood pressure control.

Sometimes individuals have significant barriers to managing their blood pressure. They may have trouble understanding what they need to do and why, paying for medication, or finding the time or resources to make diet and exercise changes. By partnering with, an American Medical Association and American Heart Association joint program, Vancouver Clinic is starting to tackle one of these obstacles. We’re offering a limited number of blood pressure cuffs for home monitoring to patients at our neighborhood clinics.

As a family medicine physician, I routinely see patients with high blood pressure in my practice. I’ve found that a strong partnership between the patient and provider helps patients achieve their goal. Working together as a team also ensures patients are able to maintain a healthy blood pressure into the future.

Reducing hypertension in our community is a challenge—one we know that we can meet. If you have concerns about your blood pressure, or haven’t had your blood pressure measured recently, I encourage you to make an appointment with your clinician. Taking control of your blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

As medical director of primary care and continuous improvement at Vancouver Clinic, Dr. Michael Paull finds innovative ways to help patients live healthier lives.