More than one in three adults in the United States has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. A normal blood pressure is 120/80; if your blood pressure is consistently higher than this number, you are at increased risk for heart attack, stroke and other complications.
What can you do to decrease your risk of developing high blood pressure? Here are some tips from your family doctor.
- Know your risk factors. There are two categories of risk factors, termed modifiable and non-modifiable. Non-modifiable risk factors are things you cannot change, such as your family history, age and gender. Modifiable risk factors are typically adopted behaviors or lifestyle choices that you can change. For most people with hypertension, modifiable risk factors include: obesity, smoking, alcohol intake, diabetes, leading a sedentary lifestyle, sodium intake, and exposure to consistently high levels of stress.
- Change your diet. Try to decrease your salt intake by avoiding pre-packaged soups and “meals in a box.” Do not add salt to food once it is prepared, and remove the salt shaker from your table. You should also work to increase your intake of whole vegetables, fruits and grains. In our “24/7” society, many of us chronically overuse caffeine and stimulants, both of which can lead to significant increases in blood pressure. Focus on arranging your life so you get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep nightly, and work to limit your intake of caffeine and stimulants.
- Focus on cardiovascular exercise. Like any muscle, the heart becomes stronger the more it is exercised. If you are just starting an exercise program, focus on low intensity activities, such as walking. As your body adapts and exercise becomes easier, you will need to increase the intensity of your workouts to continue to strengthen your heart muscle. Move on to jogging or running as you are able. Other great cardiovascular workouts include: biking, rollerblading, cross country skiing, yoga, and aerobics classes. If joint pain is an issue, try out an elliptical machine, or jump in the pool for a few laps. For your safety, it is important to check with your physician prior to starting any new workout regimen.
- Use medications as prescribed by your doctor. There are many different types of medications available to treat high blood pressure. When choosing to treat you medically, your physician should take into account your other health issues, and current medications, drug allergies, and lifestyle. Be sure to review possible side effects of medications with your doctor; if you develop a reaction to a new medication, be sure to contact your health provider prior to simply stopping the medication, as some medicines can cause adverse effects if stopped abruptly. An exception to this rule is in the case of an anaphylactic reaction; if you notice swelling of your lips or tongue, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, you should call 911 immediately.
- Don’t overlook other underlying medical problems that may contribute to elevated blood pressure; a common culprit is untreated Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). If you are overweight or obese, experience significant daytime fatigue, and suffer from snoring or waking up at night unable to breathe, you should seek a sleep apnea evaluation.
Hypertension is termed “the silent killer” because it often causes no symptoms in those affected. Take control of your health and see your health provider today for a blood pressure check!
Dr. Jacqueline Riedel is a Family Medicine physician and a member of the Kennedy Health Alliance. She practices in West Deptford, NJ, and can be reached by calling 856-384-0210.