Susan Mizgala, RN, BSN
Army Public Health Nursing
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a leading contributor of death in the United States. Having high blood pressure increases the risk of having a heart attack, stroke or death. Less than half of the people in the U.S. have their blood pressure in control.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67 million American adults (31 percent) have high blood pressure – that’s one in every three American adults. Many people who have had heart attacks, strokes and chronic heart failure also have high blood pressure. People of all ages can develop high blood pressure, and most often it is preventable.
The top number for blood pressure is the systolic reading. This means the amount of pressure against the blood vessel walls when the heart is beating or contracting.
The bottom number is the diastolic reading or the amount of pressure against the vessel walls when the heart relaxes between beats. The more buildup (plaque) on the vessel walls, the higher the pressure.
According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80, prehypertension is between 120/80 and 139/89, and hypertension is 140/90 or higher.
There are many ways to help prevent high blood pressure.
Getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is beneficial. It is recommended to do 30 minutes of exercise five times per week.
Along with exercise, following the right diet is important. The National Institute of Health provides information on the Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension or DASH diet. For more information on following this diet, discuss with your local dietitian or nutrition services. Generally, a heart-healthy diet is low in saturated fat (solid at room temperature) and salt.
In addition to exercise and diet, it is important to minimize alcohol and caffeine intake, manage stress and quit tobacco use if necessary.
Some medications and dietary supplements can increase blood pressure. Discuss your medications with your doctor if you are concerned.
Despite following all these preventive health measures, a person can still develop high blood pressure. If it is hereditary (or runs in the family), the risk is higher.
It is important to get frequent blood pressure checks to know if high blood pressure exists. Many people do not know they have it and do not feel symptoms of high blood pressure. If the reading is in the pre-hypertensive range, it is often recommended to do a five-day blood pressure check. Five-day blood pressure checks are extremely important to follow through with to determine your status.
If diagnosed with high blood pressure, there are numerous medication options to help control it. If side effects develop, your doctor may be able to change your blood pressure medication to one that is more tolerable. Following up with your doctor visits and taking medication as directed will help prevent serious complications due to uncontrolled high blood pressure.
Following is a list of those who are at higher risk for developing high blood pressure:
wPeople with a family history of high blood pressure
wWomen who take birth control pills
wPeople over the age of 35
wPeople who are overweight or obese
wPeople who are not active
wPeople who drink alcohol excessively
wPeople who eat too many fatty foods or foods with too much salt
wPeople who have sleep apnea
Remember, it is important to get your blood pressure checked at your doctor’s office if you are unsure about your blood pressure.
If you are interested in tobacco cessation or nutrition information to help control your blood pressure, call 772-6404.
For more information about blood pressure, visit the American Heart Association at heart.org.