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Treating the Silent Killer

Could you be one of the millions of Americans suffering from the “silent killer” disease? High blood pressure (called hypertension) is a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. Most people with high blood pressure don’t feel sick, so the condition may go undetected for some time. As high blood pressure continues to go unnoticed, risk of death from heart disease increases-making high blood pressure the silent killer disease.

What is blood pressure anyway?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. When arteries become narrow, the heart has to work harder to make blood flow.

Blood pressure is measured in units called millimeters of mercury (mmHg). There are two numbers; systolic and diastolic.

Systolic blood pressure is the top number of your blood pressure reading. It is a measure of the pressure in your blood when your heart beats.

Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number of your reading. This measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heart beats.

How do I know if my blood pressure is high?

Since most people don’t have symptoms associated with high blood pressure, the only way to know for certain is to have your blood pressure measured by a health professional.

  • A healthy blood pressure is less than 120 mmHg systolic over less than 80 mmHg diastolic.

  • At risk/prehypertension is a systolic of 120-139 mmHg over 80-89 mmHg diastolic.

  • Anything over 140 mmHg systolic and 90 mmHg diastolic is considered high.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure?

Some factors that increase your chances of getting high blood pressure-getting older, genetics, and family history-can’t be changed.

However, there are several factors that can be addressed through lifestyle and behavior changes. Losing excess weight is most effective in decreasing blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure can decrease by 10 mmHg for every 20 pounds of excess weight lost.

Regardless of weight, here are a few lifestyle changes that can help everyone:

  • Quit smoking. The benefits of quitting smoking start within one hour of your last cigarette! If you’ve tried quitting but started back up again, you’re not alone. Many people who are able to quit smoking have had 7 or 8 quit attempts before quitting for good.

  • The DASH Diet is one of the best studied and most effective diets for improving blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. DASH is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It includes beans, nuts, and legumes most days of the week, and is low in meat, added sugar, and added salt. The DASH diet has been shown to lower systolic blood pressure by 5-6 mmHg.

  • Sodium-reducing sodium intake can help decrease your systolic pressure by about 2-7 mmHg. In addition to table salt, sodium can be found in packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods. Eating a whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help you keep your sodium intake at recommended levels of no more than 2300 mg per day.

  • Exercise-getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity most days of the week can help decrease systolic blood pressure by 2-5 mmHg.

  • Limit alcohol-drinking too much alcohol can keep blood pressure high. If you do drink, having no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women can help decrease systolic blood pressure by 2-4 mmHg.

The lifestyle changes outlined above are enough for some people to stop needing blood pressure medication. However, these changes aren't enough for everyone. Never stop taking your blood pressure medication without first discussing with your health care professional.

Even if you can't get off of medication, losing weight, quitting smoking, eating right, and exercising are all lifestyle changes that will benefit you in countless ways!

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