High Blood Pressure: One of the few things in life we can control
By Susan Kaufman, RN and Kimberly A. Kelly, B.A., CHEC
Published in the Berkshire Eagle - October 12, 2015
How do you know if you have high blood pressure? Some people say they just feel differently. But for most of us, high blood pressure typically has no symptoms and that’s not good for two very serious reasons: We tend to ignore things we can’t feel, and if we can’t feel it, how dangerous can it be?
As it turns out, high blood pressure is very serious, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and other conditions. It’s also at epidemic levels, with one in three people diagnosed with hypertension – as the condition is called. Blood pressure measures the force of blood against the arteries. Prolonged high blood pressure can damage arteries, which ultimately can affect all organs in the body. People who are over the age of 50 or with a family history of high blood pressure are at greater risk, as are African Americans.
More than 360,000 American deaths in 2013 included high blood pressure as the primary or contributing cause. Yet despite the health threats, half of all prescriptions written for blood pressure medications are not filled. It’s time to take high blood pressure a lot more seriously. In fact, it’s one of the few things in life that we can actually control. Here’s how:
Step 1: Know your numbers! Your blood pressure is considered optimal if it is less than 120/80. Any reading where the top number (called systolic) is between 120 and 139, and where the bottom number (called diastolic) is between 80 and 89 means that you may be at risk for high blood pressure. A reading of 140 or higher systolic, and 90 or higher diastolic, is considered high blood pressure. Your doctor or healthcare professional may diagnose hypertension after two blood pressure tests that are higher than normal.
Step 2: Get your blood pressure back under control. Your doctor may prescribe medication, but there are many things that you can also do to lower your blood pressure - and get much healthier in the process. Getting back to a healthy weight can make a real difference. Taking a brisk daily walk or other exercise for 30 to 60 minutes a day will lower your blood pressure and help you shed a few extra pounds. Reducing stress, limiting alcohol, and giving up smoking should also be part of your program to get your blood pressure under control.
Step 3: Reduce sodium in your diet. This is a critical step in controlling blood pressure. The amount of salt we eat is way more than what we sprinkle on dinner. Lots of people don’t know that sodium is in bread, pizza, soups, packaged and processed foods, ham, pickles and many, many other foods. If you have high blood pressure, your sodium intake should be 2400mg. per day. Check the labels on your food and start keeping track of how much sodium is actually in your diet. At the same time, begin eating lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, which will immediately eliminate a large portion of salt from your diet.
Step 4: If your physician recommends medication, it is important to take it as ordered. Many blood pressure medications can cause adverse symptoms if stopped suddenly.
Because of the extent of the high blood pressure epidemic, many community health organizations sponsor free screening clinics, and even provide free blood pressure cuffs for those with hypertension who want to monitor their blood pressure at home. Make sure that a healthcare professional demonstrates how to use the cuff properly so that your readings are as accurate as possible.
When it comes to lowering and controlling your blood pressure, small changes in weight, exercise, diet, and sodium can make a very big difference in your numbers. You’ll be amazed by the results and have a whole new respect in the power to improve your health.
Kimberly A. Kelly, B.A., CHEC, is Manager of Community Health & Public Health Initiatives at Berkshire Health Systems. Susan Kaufman, RN, BSN, is Project Coordinator for the BHS Get Cuffed program.