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May 9, 2006 > Mission Possible: Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure

Mission Possible: Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure

May is High Blood Pressure Education Month

Having your blood pressure checked when you visit the doctor is part of the normal routine, but there is nothing routine about high blood pressure. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it can lead to hardening of the arteries, which causes heart disease; stroke; kidney disease; and blindness.

"Everyone should have their blood pressure checked regularly, from birth on up," said Dr. Ash Jain, a cardiovascular physician with Washington Hospital. "When blood pressure is too high, the problem must be treated immediately and aggressively. It’s absolutely critical."

Mission Possible: Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure is the theme for this May’s High Blood Pressure Education Month. Sponsored by the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, the public information campaign is designed to raise awareness about the health risks associated with high blood pressure and ways to keep your blood pressure under control.

Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day. When blood pressure stays elevated over time, it’s called high blood pressure or hypertension. It’s dangerous because it damages all the organs in your body.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is shown as two numbers with systolic pressure (as the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (as the heart relaxes between beats). Blood pressure should be no higher than 120/90 mmHg, according to Jain.

While high blood pressure eventually becomes a problem for most people over age 65, it can almost always be prevented in those under age 55. There are five major steps you can take to keep your blood pressure under control.
Maintain a healthy weight
   
Being overweight or obese drastically increases your risk for developing high blood pressure. Your blood pressure rises as your weight goes up. Even losing just 10 pounds can make a difference. For people who already have high blood pressure, losing weight has the biggest effect on bringing those numbers down.

One key measure to determine if you are overweight or obese is body mass index, or BMI, a measure of your weight relative to your height. It approximates total body fat, which is what increases the risk of diseases that are related to being overweight. To determine your BMI online, visit http://www.consumer.gov/weightloss/bmi.htm. Washington Hospital’s Community Health Resource Library offers free blood pressure screenings that measure BMI. (See the box below for details.)
Be physically active
   
Staying active is one of the most important steps you can take to control high blood pressure. It also helps reduce your risk of heart disease.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to be physically active. All you need is 30 minutes of moderate-level activity on most days of the week. That could include brisk walking, bicycling, raking leaves, dancing, washing the car, or gardening. You can even divide the 30 minutes into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each.
Follow a healthy eating plan
      
You really are what you eat. A healthy eating plan, which includes a low-salt diet, can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure as well as lower blood pressure that is already too high.

The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Hypertension) eating plan is a sensible way to eat that can improve overall health. The plan focuses on eating foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, salt and cholesterol while eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts and only small amounts of red meat, sweets and sugared beverages.

Most Americans consume more salt than they realize. There is a lot of sodium "hidden" in processed foods even before you reach for that salt shaker. The average person should eat less than a teaspoon of table salt each day, and someone with high blood pressure should consume even less.

Drink alcohol only in moderation
We’ve all heard that a glass of wine a day can be good for your health, but drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. Alcohol is also high in calories, which can sabotage your efforts to keep your weight down. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, with no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Take medicines as directed
If you have high blood pressure, and lifestyle changes are not bringing it down far enough, you may need to take prescribed medicines. Work with your doctor to make sure you are taking the right medication in the right doses and always take your medicines as prescribed.

"There are a variety of medicines that lower blood pressure, so it’s important to find one that works best for you," Jain said. "It’s critical for people with hypertension to stay on top of it and get their blood pressure checked at least every few months. People with normal blood pressure should check it once a year. High blood pressure is nothing to fool around with. The health risks are just too serious."

For more information about keeping your blood pressure down and the health risks associated with high blood pressure, visit www.nhbli.nih.gov.
<Begin Box>
   
The Washington Community Health Resource Library offers free blood pressure screenings. The blood pressure screening machine also determines your Body Mass Index (BMI), pulse rate, weight and height.  Screenings are available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The library is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue on the first floor of the Washington West building in Fremont.

For more information please call (510) 494-7030 or visit the library web site, www.healthlibrary.org.

 
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