Each year, about one out of every four deaths in the United States is from heart disease. One of the leading causes of heart disease is uncontrolled high Blood Pressure. February is American Heart Month.
High Blood pressure is a risk factor for multiple conditions.
Several different conditions have been linked to it. The most well-known conditions are heart disease and stroke. Both of these are influenced by a variety of risk factors, some of which are out of your control, such as family history, gender, or ethnicity. However, even if you can’t change your genetics, you can still seriously lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.
In fact, several of the other risk factors for heart disease and stroke go hand-in-hand with high blood pressure. For example, those with high blood pressure are more likely to also have high cholesterol, diabetes, or weight issues, all of which increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. The same dietary and lifestyle changes that can reduce high blood pressure can also positively affect cholesterol levels and blood sugar control, as well as support weight loss or weight maintenance.
Studies have also shown that those with atrial fibrillation are at a much higher risk for stroke if they have uncontrolled high blood pressure. This means that even people who have had medical conditions in the past can benefit significantly from getting their blood pressure under control. Recent research has also found that chronic high blood pressure increases the risk of glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Poor blood pressure control can even lead to worse memory in old age.
Diagnosing high blood pressure
Testing for high blood pressure is simple, but vital, so get it checked during American Heart Month.
High blood pressure typically exhibits no symptoms, which is why it’s sometimes called the “silent killer.” This is why it’s so important to get it checked on a regular basis. Otherwise, you might be suffering from this condition and be at an increased risk for multiple serious health conditions without knowing it.
A blood pressure cuff is all that’s needed to check for high blood pressure. This can be done in just a couple minutes in a physician’s office. Some pharmacies and stores also provide testing stations or you can have it done before donating blood. You can even buy a blood pressure cuff yourself and test it at home, although it’s always a good idea to have your physician check it a couple times a year. Actually, one study found that people who visit their physicians at least twice a year are 3.2 times more likely to have good blood pressure control, as compared to those who visit their physician once or less throughout the year.
If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s orders to treat it.
Because high blood pressure doesn’t noticeably affect day to day life, it can be easy to brush off a doctor’s advice for treatment. However, it’s important to always take whatever medications your physician prescribes. Additionally, it’s important to follow up with your physician regularly. Your blood pressure can change over time, necessitating a change in dosage for your medication.
Research has shown that both undertreating and overtreating high blood pressure can cause serious health problems, like kidney failure. Your physician knows the best target range for you, so getting regular check-ups will allow him or her to help you adjust your medications and lifestyle so you stay at your healthiest.
Heart-healthy food choices
American Heart Month is the perfect time to make some simple dietary changes.
Adopting a heart-healthy diet can significantly reduce blood pressure. Essentially, a heart-healthy diet involves controlling your intake of sodium, fats, cholesterol, and sugars. Sodium, in particular, contributes to high blood pressure, and it’s abundant in the typical U.S. diet. Ask your physician or a nutritionist what your goals should, but here are some basic daily guidelines:
- Try to get around 1,500 mg of sodium, but definitely no more than 2,400 mg
- Avoid foods that have a lot of cholesterol, trans fats, or added sugars and sweeteners
- Try to limit saturated fats to about 13 g per day for a 2,000 calorie diet
- Replace unhealthy snacks and foods with fruits, veggies, and whole grains
Making these changes means becoming familiar with the nutritional information on foods and drinks, including the recommended serving size. Multiple servings of a lower sodium snack can still add up to a lot of sodium. When you’re eating out, do a quick web search for the restaurant’s nutritional information before leaving the house. Keep in mind that many restaurants add salt while cooking, but most will gladly forgo the extra salt if asked.
When you’re buying groceries, look for items labeled as “heart healthy” or marked with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check. Organic pre-prepared foods are often lower in sodium, fats, and sugar too, so compare different brands. You can also look for things like lower-sodium broth or salt-free seasonings when you’re cooking.
Also, consider switching out the soda for water or herbal tea. If this doesn’t do the trick, make sure you check the label before you down a bottled soft drink. Sports drinks, especially, often have sodium to replace what’s lost while sweating. If you’re not working up a sweat before downing a sports drink, you’re just adding unnecessary sodium to your diet.
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes
Other lifestyle changes can significantly lower blood pressure, too. Exercise plays a big part in a healthy lifestyle. Aerobic activity is highly recommended. A brisk, ten-minute walk every day is a good place to start if you aren’t in the habit of exercising.
Another big factor is smoking. WebMD explains how smoking can interfere with your blood pressure:
“The nicotine in cigarette smoke is a big part of the problem. It raises your blood pressure and heart rate, makes your arteries more narrow and hardens their walls, and also makes your blood more likely to clot. It stresses your heart and sets you up for a heart attack or stroke.”
With enough dedication to a better diet, more exercise, and a healthier lifestyle, it can be possible to control your blood pressure well enough that no medication is necessary. Remember that your physician always knows the best target range for you, so get checked out regularly.
Are you going to get your blood pressure checked for American Heart Month?
Image by Lucas Hayas via Flickr
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