Health Risk: Heart Health

March 15, 2011

Getting blood pressure measured

Have Your Blood Pressure Checked

It's a good idea to start having your blood pressure checked at an early age. Even children as young as 6 years old can have high blood pressure.

Talk to your doctor about what the numbers mean to you. Health experts have changed the normal range for blood pressure. The goal is to get doctors to recommend stronger and earlier treatment of high blood pressure. This is because new studies show the risk of heart disease and stroke begins to go up at lower blood pressures than the experts realized.

Here are the new blood pressure rankings:

Level
Systolic
Diastolic
High Blood Pressure: 140 or above 90 or above
Prehypertension (Pre-High blood pressure): 120-139 80-89
Normal adult blood pressure: 119 or below 79 or below

High blood pressure can be anyone's problem. In fact, women need to know about certain things that may put them at a greater risk for high blood pressure than men:

  • Taking birth control medication
  • Overweight
  • Postmenopausal (no longer able to have children)
  • African-American
  • Family history of high blood pressure

For African Americans, high blood pressure develops at an earlier age, tends to be more severe, and carries higher rates of kidney failure. It's important to get the facts so you can reduce your risk for stroke, heart disease, or kidney disease.

Why It's Important

High blood pressure is the number 1 risk for stroke that you can change. If you get your blood pressure under control, your chance of stroke goes down significantly. Every 45 seconds, someone in America has a stroke. Stroke is our nation's number 3 killer, and a leading cause of severe disability that can last for a long time. People with uncontrolled high blood pressure are three times more likely to develop coronary (artery) heart disease. They're six times more likely to develop congestive heart failure, a disease in which the heart can't pump enough blood to the rest of the body.

Untreated high blood pressure can damage the fragile lining of the blood vessels. Once damaged, fat and calcium can build up along the artery wall, forming a plaque. Plaque is a sticky matter that "stops up" the arteries - the tubes that carry blood away from the heart. The blood vessel becomes narrowed and stiff. This means blood flow through the blood vessel is reduced. Over time, lower blood flow to certain organs in the body can cause damage, leading to:

  • Heart disease, heart attack, and a heartbeat that's not normal
  • Stroke
  • Kidney failure
  • Peripheral arterial disease (disease of the blood vessels)
  • Eye damage

High Blood Pressure Can't Be Cured, But It Can Be Controlled

Treating high blood pressure means changes and medicines during your care. Finding the right mix of drugs with the fewest side effects can take some time. So it's important to take your medicine as your doctor has told you. Work with your doctor to put together your drug plan and target goals.

Talk with your doctor about the following:

  • Names of drugs
    Get a clear understanding of what each medicine is supposed to do. If you understand what you are taking and how it's helping you, it may be easier to stick to your schedule. You may need to stay away from certain medicines that could reduce the performance of your blood pressure medication or raise your blood pressure. For example, talk to your doctor if you're taking non-steroidal drugs that control inflammation (swelling) such as Advil or Motrin, decongestants such as Sudafed, as well as any herbal remedies. Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, does not cause fluid retention or affect the kidneys like the anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Schedule
    Make your medication schedule as simple as possible. Plan times to take your medicines when you're doing other things like eating a meal or getting ready for bed. Find out what to do if you forget to take one of your medicines. Get organized by using a pillbox that holds a week's worth of pills. Or, you can record your schedule on a calendar. Keep a current medication list, make copies, and share with close family members. Always bring your current list to your doctor or other healthcare provider.
  • Side effects
    Ask your doctor or pharmacist about what side effects to expect. Tell your doctor right away if you have any serious side effects or changes.
  • When to see your doctor
    Ask your doctor how often you should visit. If you have an automatic blood pressure cuff, keep track of your readings. Bring them with you to your next visit.

Changes in the Way You Live

Follow the "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" eating plan (DASH). This plan has been scientifically proven to reduce blood pressure a great deal. The DASH eating plan is a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products. The plan also has lower amounts of saturated and total fats. Your goal is 8 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Lowering sodium while following DASH has been shown to lower blood pressure even further than just DASH alone. Reducing the amount of processed food you eat, such as snack foods, lunch meats (like salami or ham), and canned soups will also help. DASH may not cure high blood pressure but it may lower your pressure enough that your doctor may reduce your medications.

Even if your doctor has prescribed drugs for you, there are still many steps you can take to lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke:

  • Get enough potassium, calcium, and magnesium in your diet.
  • Add fiber to your diet.
  • Limit the number of drinks which contain liquor — for men, two drinks per day. Women and people who weigh less should drink no more than half that amount.
  • Keep a healthy weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9.
  • Get regular exercise such as fast walking at least 30 minutes a day on most, if not all days of the week.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Use anti-inflammatory medicines wisely.
  • Find out how to check your blood pressure at home.
  • Reduce stress.

Risks Factors for Getting High Blood Pressure

There are risk factors you can change to lower your risk of getting high blood pressure, such as:

  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising
  • Drinking liquor - three drinks a day or more
  • Eating a lot of salty or processed foods
  • Not getting enough calcium, magnesium, and potassium in your diet

Here are some risks you can't control:

  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Your race — being African-American or Asian-American put you at greater risk

Take Control and Reach Your Goal

To find out more about high blood pressure and medication, checking yourself at home, the DASH eating plan, preventing the disease, and much more, log into MyHumana, your secure Website. Scroll down to the Condition Centers on the left side of the page. Select Heart Disease, and then select the link for Hypertension. You also will find links to the American Heart Association and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute on the Condition Center.

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