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Maintain A Healthy Heart: Control Your Blood Pressure

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Maintain A Healthy Heart: Control Your Blood Pressure
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February is the American Heart Association’s Heart Month, and it’s a great time to promote heart health and reduce the prevalence of cardiovascular disease. One of the main focuses of Heart Month is to encourage people to be aware of their blood pressure and to keep it under control. Many people live with high blood pressure for years without even knowing it. Untreated high blood pressure often causes severe illness and can be fatal. 

Approximately 1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This equates to about 70 million people! 

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure (HBP), also known as hypertension, is a serious condition which can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems. HBP is often referred to as the “silent killer,” as it has no symptoms. This is why it is so crucial to get your blood pressure checked at a minimum of every 2 years, and keep it under control.

Diving into the Numbers

Blood pressure numbers refer to the systolic (pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood) and diastolic (pressure when the heart is at rest) pressures. Normal blood pressure is usually 120/80 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). The table below illustrates normal numbers for adults and shows which numbers put you at a greater risk for health problems.

Category

Systolic

(top number)

 

Diastolic

(bottom number)

Normal

Less than 120

AND

Less than 80

Prehypertension

120-139

OR

80-89

High Blood Pressure Stage 1

140-159

OR

90-99

High Blood Pressure Stage 2

160 or higher

OR

100 or higher

 

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure tends to rise with age, unless you take steps to prevent it. Certain medical problems, medications and pregnancy can also raise blood pressure. Aside from older age, there are other specific factors that may put one more at risk, including being African-American, overweight or male; having long-lasting stress; and engaging in unhealthy lifestyle habits such as eating too much salt, excessive alcohol consumption, not getting enough potassium, not exercising and smoking.

Control Your Blood Pressure

Since high blood pressure shows no signs or symptoms, it’s important to get regular checkups with a healthcare professional. Also, the CDC recommends these steps to keep your blood pressure under control:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Healthy habits will help you control your HBP. You should follow a healthy eating plan, get lots of physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, choose foods low in sodium, quit smoking, lessen or cease your alcohol consumption and learn effective ways to manage stress.
  • The DASH Diet: DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is an eating plan that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other heart-healthy foods that are lower in sodium. The diet is low in fat and cholesterol and features fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry and nuts. The DASH plan suggests limiting your intake of red meat (even if lean), sweets, added sugar and sugar-laden beverages. Many physicians have recommended this plan for patients that have high blood pressure because it requires no special foods or recipes and is relatively easy to follow.
  • Medicines: Today’s blood pressure medicines can safely help most people control their HBP. The side effects typically tend to be minor. These medications work in different ways; some remove extra fluid and salt from the body, while others slow down the heartbeat or relax and widen blood vessels. Sometimes, two or more medicines taken together work better than one by itself. The different kinds of medications include:
      • Diuretics – Also called water pills, they help your kidneys flush excess water and salt from your body.
      • Beta Blockers – These help your heart beat slower and with less force.
      • ACE Inhibitors – Your body is prevented from making a hormone called angiotensin II, which narrows blood vessels, with this medication.
      • Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers (ARBs) – These medications protect your body from angiotensin II and as a result, blood vessels relax and widen.
      • Calcium Channel Blockers (CCBs) – They keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of your heart and blood vessels, which allows them to relax.
      • Alpha Blockers – These reduce nerve impulses that tighten blood vessels.
      • Alpha-Beta Blockers – Much like alpha blockers, these medications reduce nerve impulses, but they also slow the heartbeat.
      • Nervous System Inhibitors – With these medications, nerve impulses from the brain are relaxed and blood vessels are widened.
      • Vasodilators – These relax the muscles in blood vessel walls.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.

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