May is High Blood Pressure Education Month
In the United States, over 100 million people have high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension. Many people don't even know they have high blood pressure. Symptoms of hypertension often go unnoticed and if left uncontrolled increases the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. During May, have your blood pressure checked. You can either schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or visit a local pharmacy that does blood pressure readings. If your blood pressure is elevated, it may be time for a physical.
Blood pressure that is slightly higher than normal is called prehypertension or elevated blood pressure--approximately 30% of American adults have prehypertension. People with prehypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure than are people with normal blood pressure levels
It's important to know your numbers. When blood pressure is measured, the upper number (systolic pressure) measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The lower number (diastolic pressure) measures the pressure between heartbeats. For most people, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:
- Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Until about age 64, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
- Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among people of African heritage, often developing at an earlier age than it does in Caucasians.
- Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families.
- Being overweight or obese. The more you weigh the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
- Not being physically active. People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
- Using tobacco. Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow and increase your risk of heart disease. Secondhand smoke also can increase your heart disease risk.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet. Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too little potassium in your diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don't get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
- Drinking too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men may affect your blood pressure. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
- Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions. Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.
You can maintain healthy blood pressure by changing your lifestyle or combining lifestyle changes with prescribed medications.
Key lifestyle changes include the following:
- Have your blood pressure checked regularly.
- Maintain a normal body weight - body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9
- Exercise - Take at least 1 brisk 10-minute walk, 3 times a day, 5 days a week.
- Follow a healthy eating plan of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low in sodium (no more than 2,300 mg per day)
- Quit smoking.
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation (no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women).
- If you have high blood pressure and are prescribed medication(s), take as directed