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May 7, 2008 > Women's Center Lunch & Learn Session: High Blood Pressure? Try a Little TLC

Women's Center Lunch & Learn Session: High Blood Pressure? Try a Little TLC

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to serious complications, including stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure or other health problems. The American Heart Association estimates that nearly one in three adults in the U.S. has high blood pressure. Because there generally are no symptoms, however, nearly one-third of these people don't even know they have it. In fact, many people have high blood pressure for years without knowing it. The only way to tell if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked.

If you haven't had your blood pressure checked recently - or if you already know you have high blood pressure and would like some help in keeping it under control - you won't want to miss the next "Lunch and Learn" session at the Washington Women's Center on Tuesday, May 13 from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. Women are invited to bring their lunch and receive a free blood pressure screening followed by a lecture entitled "TLC: Total Lifestyle Changes for Women," offering tips for controlling your blood pressure. If you can't make the luncheon session because of work or other schedule demands, the session will be repeated from 1 to 2 p.m.

"We will explain what people's blood pressure numbers mean," says Women's Center Coordinator Kathy Hesser, RN. "Your blood pressure can change from day to day as well as with everyday activities such as exercise and sleeping, but it should normally be less than 120/80 for an adult. Blood pressure that ranges between 120/80 and 139/89 is considered prehypertension. Blood pressure above 140/90 is considered hypertension. Your health care provider may take several readings over time before deciding whether your blood pressure is high."

What do blood pressure numbers indicate?

* The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is beating.
* The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.

The systolic pressure is always stated first and the diastolic pressure second.

"After explaining people's blood pressure readings, we counsel them in how to initiate a discussion about their blood pressure with their physician and offer advice on where they can receive regular blood pressure screenings," Hesser says. "Then we offer tips not only on what they can do to lower their blood pressure through various lifestyle changes, but also on how they can incorporate those changes into their lives without feeling like it's a sacrifice."

Hesser notes that adopting healthy lifestyle habits can be effective in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure. If lifestyle changes alone are not effective in keeping your pressure controlled, it may be necessary to add blood pressure medications. Some of the lifestyle changes that can make a difference include:
* Following a healthy eating plan, such as the "Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension" (DASH) diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. The DASH eating plan also includes whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts and calls for reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets and sugared beverages.

* Reducing the amount of sodium in your diet to less than 2.4 grams a day, which is equal to about one teaspoon of table salt a day. That recommended amount includes all the salt and sodium you consume, including amounts that are in processed foods or are added during cooking or at the table.

* Maintaining a health weight, since being overweight is a risk factor for high blood pressure and other health problems. The amount of weight loss needed to improve your blood pressure may not be as great as you think - your health can be greatly improved by a loss of as little as 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight.

* Being physically active, getting 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most days of the week. You can even divide the 30 minutes into shorter periods of at least 10 minutes each. Some examples of physical activities that are easy to incorporate into your everyday routine include using stairs instead of an elevator, pushing a baby stroller, walking the dog, working in the garden and performing various housekeeping chores.

* Limiting your alcohol intake since drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure. Alcoholic drinks also are high in calories, which matters if you are trying to lose weight. For women, the recommended amount of alcohol is one 12-ounce beer, five ounces of wine or 1-1/2 ounces of hard liquor.

* Quitting smoking, because smoking injures blood vessel walls and speeds up the process of hardening of the arteries. If you need help in quitting, ask your physician about various quit-smoking aids such as nicotine patches and gum, as well as for a referral to a support group for people trying to quit.

"When you're making lifestyle changes to help control your blood pressure, it's important to set realistic goals," Hesser advises. "Give yourself short-term goals that get you closer and closer to your ultimate goal. For example, for patients who like to use a lot of soy sauce - which contains sodium - I will recommend that they switch to a low-sodium soy sauce and gradually cut down the amount they use, rather than eliminating it altogether.

"It's also important to reward yourself when you achieve one of your goals," she adds. "Treat yourself to a movie or a new book or music CD. Or just give yourself an hour of quiet time away from the demands of work and family."

The Women's Center is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, across the street from Washington Hospital. To register or to obtain more information about the Women's Center programs such as the monthly "Lunch and Learn" lectures, the Evening Lecture Series for Women, and a variety of special events and support groups, call (510) 608-1356. Or you can visit the Washington Hospital website at, click on the link for Women's Health under "Programs and Services," and then click the link for Wellness Classes and Services.

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