Nearly half of all adults have high blood pressure (HBP), also known as hypertension. If it’s not effectively controlled, it increases a person’s chance of developing many serious health problems — including heart attack, stroke and aneurysm, heart and kidney failure, even dementia.

In most cases, medications designed to lower blood pressure are effective, but it’s also important for folks with the condition to monitor their own blood pressure levels.

Unfortunately, a new study conducted by Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan’s academic medical center, reports that less than half — only 48 percent — of people aged 50 to 80 who take BP meds, or a have a health condition effected by hypertension, regularly check their blood pressure. The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, are based on data released last year from the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Using an at-home BP monitor can help patients maintain heart and brain health and live longer.

The poll asked about 1,250 adults who said they were either taking a medication to control their blood pressure or had a chronic health condition, such as a history of stroke, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease or hypertension, that required blood pressure control whether they monitored their blood pressure outside of a clinical setting.

Among the study’s concerning findings:

  • Only 55 percent of the poll’s participants said they owned a blood pressure monitor.
  • Many of those who had a monitor at home admitted that they didn’t use it.
  • There was a wide range in how frequently BP was checked. Those who owned the equipment were over 10 times more likely to check their blood pressure outside of a healthcare setting.
  • Only half of the respondents said they shared readings with their healthcare provider.
  • About 62 percent of patients said a health care provider encouraged them to monitor their BP at home.
  • If a recommendation was made, participants were 3.5 times more likely to do the home testing.
It will be important to explore why at-risk patients don’t check their blood pressure and why their providers don’t suggest it, according to the Michigan Medicine authors, who included Mellanie Springer from the Department of Neurology and Deborah Levine from the Department of Internal Medicine. Using an at-home BP monitor can help patients live longer and maintain heart and brain health, they said.

In addition to routinely checking your blood pressure, the American Heart Association suggests these lifestyle choices to help keep hypertension in check:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Strive for a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.
  • Eat healthier. Eat lots of fruit, veggies and low-fat dairy, and less saturated and total fat.
  • Reduce sodium. Ideally, stay under 1,500 mg a day, but aim for at least a 1,000 mg per day reduction.
  • Get active. Aim for at least 90 to 150 minutes of aerobic and/or dynamic resistance exercise per week and/or three sessions of isometric resistance exercises per week.
  • Limit alcohol. Drink no more than 1-2 drinks a day. (One for most women, two for most men.)