Checking blood pressure

Strokes are happening at younger ages and statistics show increasing rates for the 45-64 age group. High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for stroke, along with high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes. Given the connection, National Stroke Awareness and National High Blood Pressure Education are both observed in May to increase awareness of the signs and management options.

The chances of stroke are significantly reduced if blood pressure is under control. Various methods for reducing blood pressure include lowering stress, developing healthy eating habits, exercising, and monitoring blood pressure on a regular basis. Although monitoring blood pressure can assist with preventing a stroke, it is still important to know the signs and to act immediately if a stroke is suspected.

Holly Arends, CHSP, CMQP, Program Manager for Great Plains Quality Innovation Network“There are many stories of stroke,” stated Holly Arends, CHSP, CMQP, program manager for Great Plains Quality Innovation Network [pictured]. “One that touches me is Wanda Sturtz’s story. She was a 46-year-old working woman, wife and mother. She was posing for a family photo one evening and she had a sudden severe headache.”


Headache with unknown cause is one of the signs of stroke, along with others, including sudden numbness, confusion and trouble seeing and walking. Every minute counts when a stroke occurs. Act FAST is a simple method to help identify a stroke.

  1. Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
  2. Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  3. Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  4. Time – Call 9-1-1 right away if there are any signs of stroke.

Although Wanda has residual physical limitations due to the stroke, it hasn’t stopped her from making positives changes in her life and impacting positive changes in her friends and family. She learned that managing her high blood pressure and stress in her life was the key to ensure she remains stroke free.

The management of high blood pressure is a national priority for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In South Dakota, Great Plains QIN, Compass PTN HealthPOINT and the South Dakota Department of Health-Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke Prevention division are collaborating to assist clinics to institute Self-Measure Blood Pressure (SMBP) programs; allowing providers and patients work together to manage high blood pressure.

Key Elements of the SMBP Program:

  • Identify patients who may benefit from the program
  • Educate the patient on how to take an accurate reading
  • Provide an in-home monitor
  • Provide a way to send self-measured readings to the provider’s clinic
  • Develop a collaborative strategy to provide assistance to the patient without the need for a clinic visit, when applicable.

“This type of program gives the patient the support and empowerment they need to manage their condition,” Arends added. “Community-based chronic disease management programs, such as Better Choices, Better Health, also provide a network of support for the patient to develop a long-term healthy lifestyle.”

Great Plains QIN’s cardiovascular care content experts assist practices to identify at-risk patients through standardized protocols and provide valuable tools and resources. Arends highlighted best practices and ongoing efforts, “Utilizing health information technology to create registries assists in managing the patients and their needs, and implementation of self-monitoring blood pressure programs empowers patients. When patients are health care partners we see improved health, better outcomes, and decrease costs.”