Preventing High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) affects an estimated one in every three adults in the U.S., making it the nation’s most common chronic health condition. It is called the “silent killer” because many people who have the condition are unaware of it. Hypertension can be diagnosed at any age – even for people in their 20s and 30s.
“About three out of four of the 1.2 million upstate New York adults diagnosed with high blood pressure said they changed their diet or increased their physical activity to manage their condition,” said Carl Devore, M.D., associate medical director, Excellus BCBS. “But about one in four upstate New York adults with the condition is not taking these two crucial steps to improve blood pressure control. “That’s a concern, because properly managing high blood pressure can add years to your life and help you avoid costly and crippling health problems such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease,” he added.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure measures how hard the blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure can damage your arteries and make it easier for fats to build up and narrow your arteries, leading to heart and kidney disease.
A blood pressure check is quick and painless, involving a cuff that is wrapped around the patient’s upper arm. When an air pump tightens and then releases the cuff, an attached meter displays the two numbers that make up a blood pressure reading:
- The first - “top” number (systolic pressure) - measures the force against the artery walls as the heart contracts to force blood through the body
- The second - “bottom” number (diastolic pressure) - measures the force against the arteries when the heart relaxes between beats
Blood pressure is written as the systolic number over the diastolic number. High blood pressure is defined as 140/90 mmHg or higher.
Knowing your blood pressure numbers is important, even when you’re feeling well. Blood pressure doesn’t stay the same all the time. It changes with activity and sleep, when you’re excited or anxious. Health problems can develop if your numbers stay above normal most of the time. High blood pressure is usually discovered through a routine office visit. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.
Lower Your Pressure
Be aware if your numbers are too high. Early diagnosis, along with lifestyle changes, can help delay or prevent serious health conditions. Follow these tips:
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Regularly participate in aerobic physical activity.
- Moderate alcohol consumption (two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women).
- Quit smoking.
- Use blood pressure control medication(s) prescribed by your health care provider.
- Adopt a potassium-rich diet that is low in sodium, fat and sugar, such as the “DASH” Diet.
What is DASH?
DASH is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The DASH eating plan focuses on foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. These nutrients can lower blood pressure. The foods that are highest in these nutrients are fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, nuts, seeds, and beans. Taking calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements instead of eating these foods does not have the same effect.
Don't make big changes in your diet all at once. Make small changes, and don't give up. As soon as those changes become habit, add a few more changes.
You'll have more success if you make a plan that includes long-term and short-term goals as well as ideas for getting past barriers—things that might get in the way of changing your eating habits.
Support from family and friends can go a long way toward helping you find success in changing your habits. Don't be afraid to let family and friends know what you're trying to do. And ask for their help.
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