It's known as the "silent killer": high blood pressure. Sixty-eight million Americans are affected, and 40% of people with the condition don't even know they have it.
Blood pressure is a measurement of how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. It's normal for the pressure to go up and down throughout the day, but if it stays up, that can be a concern.
"We call it the killer because it's a very important contributing cause to stroke, heart attack and kidney failure," says Dr. Richard Howard of Sanford Health in Bismarck.
Now, doctors say, checking your blood pressure at kiosks like these is a good idea. They're easy, fast and most importantly, accurate. And if the kiosk says you have high blood pressure, don't panic. Getting treated by a doctor is easier than you might think.
"Medications are safe," says Dr. Howard. "They have very limited side effects, and with good follow up, getting you on a good regimen that works for you, that has very few side effects."
But if you don't need the medication, don't take it. A small change in your lifestyle may just do the trick.
"If you have a little bit of hypertension, you don't necessarily need medications," says Dr. Howard. "Watching your salt and exercise, you can lower your blood pressure back to normal."
So how do we actually reduce our blood pressure?
"Fruits and vegetables. Diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking," says Dr. Jolene Engelhart of St. Alexius Medical Center. "All of those things are things that we can take control of and do to improve those numbers."
Doctors say because so many of us are on blood pressure medication, it's costing our economy quite a bit. And... if Americans dropped their sodium intake by just one teaspoon of salt per day, they say it could have some major economic benefits...
"That change alone would reduce the cases of high blood pressure by 11 million," says Dr. Engelhart. The economic burden of that is that it would save 18 billion healthcare dollars annually."
So whether or not you think you have high blood pressure, get it checked, because doing so could save your life.