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Staying Under Pressure: Preventing and Managing Hypertension

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is when the pressure in your arteries is higher than it should be. When your blood pushes against the sides of the arteries this creates a force. The force of this pushing is called your blood pressure. Blood pressure is written as a fraction. The top (systolic) number represents the pressure when your heart beats. The bottom (diastolic) number represents the pressure when your heart rest between beats.

Almost half of people in the United States who are over the age of twenty have high blood pressure. It is important to know your blood pressure and have it checked on a regular basis. High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms, but can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness and more.

So how does someone know if they are at risk for developing high blood pressure? Risk factors are divided into two groups. The first group includes the factors we do not have control over. These include: getting older, family history of hypertension, race/ethnicity, having kidney disease and having obstructive sleep apnea. Men also are at higher risk than women.

The second group of risk factors are things we do have control over. These include the following: smoking tobacco, being overweight or obese, high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes, not getting enough exercise. Also eating an unhealthy diet that is high in sodium, low in potassium and drinking too much alcohol increase your risk for high blood pressure.

For adults, normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. Elevated blood pressure is when your top (systolic) number is between 120-129 and your bottom (diastolic) number is less than 80. High blood pressure is when your numbers read 130/80 or higher. If your blood pressure is in this category, it is definitely time to pay attention.

It is a myth that a person can tell if they have high blood pressure just by how they feel. Many people think that having high blood pressure has symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, or having flushing of the face. However, many times people have no symptoms at all. This is why hypertension is known as the “Silent Killer”. If you have high blood pressure, it can be causing damage to you heart, arteries, eyes, kidneys and other organs.

Prevention is key to keep blood pressure under control. Start by not smoking. If you already smoke, do everything in your power to quit. Get active. Aim for at least 150 minutes each week of aerobic activity. This is exercise using your large muscle groups. The goal is to get your heart rate up high enough so you are breathing harder than at rest, but able to still carry on a conversation. Some examples of aerobic activity include walking, riding bikes, swimming and dancing. If you are overweight or obese, lose weight.

Limit alcohol intake. Women should have no more than 1 drink per day and men no more than 2 drinks per day. Limit sodium. Aim to consume less than 1500 milligrams of dietary sodium a day. This includes all forms of salt that you cook with. This also means it is important to read labels at the grocery store and choose lower sodium options. Be aware that the highest foods containing sodium include; breads and rolls, pizza, soup, lunch meats and cured meats (ham, bacon, sausage), rotisserie chicken and sandwiches. A low sodium food usually contains no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.

Lastly, if you are prescribed medicine to lower your blood pressure, take your medication exactly as prescribed. There are several categories of medicines for managing blood pressure. Many people are on more than one type of BP medication because the medicines work in different ways. Do not stop taking you medicines just because your blood pressure improves. It can be very helpful to track your blood pressure at home. Keep a log of your readings if your doctor requests you too and bring your log with you to your appointments for review.

So, know your blood pressure. If it is well controlled, maintain a healthy lifestyle to keep it there. If it is 130/80 or higher, see your provider and ask to see an educator in the Health and Wellness department.

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