A simple blood pressure test can help screen for a variety of cardiovascular conditions.
Virginia has joined a national initiative to prevent heart attacks and strokes, as health care providers statewide are also participating in the "Million Hearts" challenge.
High blood pressure rates in Virginia have been on the rise, with 1 in 4 adults having high blood pressure in 2009. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death among Virginians, with strokes ranked as the third leading cause. State Health Commissioner and Doctor Karen Remley says there's a connection there.
"We know that hypertension causes pressure. If you think about it, it's just pressure beating on your vessels whether your vessels are in your brain or your vessels are in your heart, every single day," says Remley. "And over time, that increased pressure of having high blood pressure causes damage to both your heart and to your brain. So we want to make sure people know what their numbers are and take the appropriate medication to lower them."
As part of the Million Hearts Challenge, organizations around the Commonwealth are encouraged to meet the goal of taking 1,000,000 blood pressures during the month of May.
Remley says blood pressure can be checked free of charge at most pharmacies: "Ask the pharmacist. They're very smart health professionals that can tell you whether that's something that you need — to go see your doctor about to have more work done on it, or whether you just need to have it checked again."
She adds that the focus is on blood pressure control, and not screening alone, so consumers need to follow up if indicated. Lifestyle changes may also include more exercise, vegetables, and fruit, and quitting smoking.