COLLEGE STATION High blood pressure has been called the “silent killer,” not because it is deadly in and of itself, but because it can be the underlying cause of serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and dementia.
The good news is high blood pressure can be controlled and through that control, some serious medical conditions can be prevented.
Blood pressure can be loosely defined as the amount of force of blood against artery walls as it is pumped through the body, according to Dr. Carol Rice, Texas Cooperative Extension health education specialist, and Janet Pollard, Extension health associate.
Normally, the human heart beats between 60 and 80 beats per minute, they said. Although the pressure rises and falls throughout the day, when the rate rises and stays that way over a period of time, that’s high blood pressure.
According to information from the American Heart Association, although high blood pressure can be found in children or adults, it is most often found in people who are older than 35.
It is found especially often in African-Americans, the middle-aged and/or elderly of all races, those who are obese, heavy drinkers, heavy tobacco users and women taking birth control pills. People with diabetes mellitus, gout and kidney disease are also frequently diagnosed with high blood pressure.
And a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association stated that high blood pressure is more often found among those living in the South than in other parts of the country.
The only way to diagnose high blood pressure is to get regular blood pressure checks, Pollard said. This relatively painless procedure involves a medical professional using a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer. A rubber cuff is wrapped around the upper arm and inflated; as the air is released, the medial professional uses the stethoscope to listen to the blood flow in the arm.
Blood pressure readings come in two numbers, said Rice: Systolic blood pressure is the top number; diastolic is the bottom number. For adults age 18 and older, normal systolic readings are 130 or less, normal diastolic are 85 or less or 130 over 85.
“A single reading of high blood pressure does not mean you will be classified as having high blood pressure,” Pollard said, “but it is a sign that you may need to watch your blood pressure carefully. High blood pressure is typically classified after two or more high readings.”
Those who are diagnosed with high blood pressure can take steps to control the condition, said Rice. “The first step in both preventing and controlling high blood pressure is to modify your lifestyle.”
- Maintaining a healthy weight. If weight loss is prescribed, do it gradually one-half to two pounds per week.
- Increasing exercise and other physical activities. At least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day, five or more days a week is recommended.
- Eating a healthy diet. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is recommended. This eating plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and total fat. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/index.htm
- Limiting alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure even in healthy individuals. It can also damage the brain, heart and liver, not to mention increase calorie intake.
- Quitting use of tobacco products. Not only can tobacco use lead to buildup of cholesterol in the arteries, but it can promote constriction of blood vessels, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.
- Reducing stress. Long-term stress can cause higher blood pressure.
- If necessary, taking prescribed medications to lower blood pressure. “It is important to understand that, if you are using medications to control your blood pressure, your blood pressure is only under control if you are taking the medication,” Rice said.
“For this reason, you may have to take high blood pressure medication for your lifetime. Don’t let this discourage you. Treating high blood pressure may require time, patience and care by both you and your doctor. It may be frustrating to take pills, especially if you felt fine before being diagnosed with high blood pressure. Still, enduring the inconvenience of medication is better than suffering a stroke or heart attack, losing your vision or developing kidney problems.
“Most people who are treated successfully and learn to control their blood pressure live a long and healthy life.”
For more information on high blood pressure and how to control it, visit the Web site at: http://fcs.tamu.edu/health/Health_Education_Rural_Outreach/Index.htm .