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Heart Disease: How To Reduce The Risk

What You Should Know About Reducing Blood Pressure

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 21:58

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease. One in four Americans has high blood pressure, and many of them are unaware of it. Although high blood pressure can usually be controlled with a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes and medication, most people with high blood pressure do not control it.

What is high blood pressure?

How does high blood pressure increase your risk for heart disease?

Is your blood pressure too high?

What factors increase your risk for high blood pressure?

How you can lower your blood pressure

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Blood that travels through your body is always under pressure, which is why it keeps circulating. But if blood pressure goes up and stays high, it is called high blood pressure, or hypertension. Usually, the term "hypertension" is used to mean increased pressure in the blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body. High blood pressure can be the result of narrowed arteries and/or excess fluid circulating in the bloodstream.

Think of your arteries as a garden hose. If you try to force more water through the hose or put a crimp in the hose, water pressure increases. Likewise, when your arteries are narrowed or more fluid is flowing through them, the blood exerts more pressure on the artery walls, causing high blood pressure.

For more information about high blood pressure and how you can control it, go to High Blood Pressure.

How Does High Blood Pressure Increase Your Risk For Heart Disease?

When your blood pressure is too high, your risk for CHD increases because:

  • Your heart has to work harder to force blood into the arteries that carry blood to every part of your body. Your heart may become enlarged and less efficient as a result.
  • The extra pressure on arterial walls can damage them.Cholesterol and other fat-like substances can catch on the rough surface of the damaged arterial walls, speeding up the process of atherosclerosis.

High blood pressure is especially dangerous for people who smoke or who have high blood cholesterol levels.

Is Your Blood Pressure Too High?

Everyone should have his or her blood pressure checked at least every two years, and more often if it is higher than it should be. Many people have high blood pressure without even knowing it, because high blood pressure usually causes no symptoms.

If you can't have your blood pressure measured by a health professional, you can use a blood pressure machine found in many drug stores as an early alert system. Sit quietly for a few minutes before you start the machine and don't talk while the machine is on. If the machine shows that your blood pressure is on the high side, have your blood pressure checked by a health professional.

Two numbers express blood pressure. The first and higher number,systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure when the heart is actually beating. The second and lower number,diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure between beats of the heart. A typical normal blood pressure is 120/80, or "120 over 80."

If your systolic blood pressure is:

  • Less than 120, your pressure is ideal
  • 121-140, your pressure is borderline
  • More than 140, your pressure is high

If your diastolic blood pressure is:

  • Less than 80, your pressure is ideal
  • 81-90, your pressure is borderline
  • More than 90, your pressure is high

If either type of blood pressure is too high, you need to work with your doctor to bring it down.

What Factors Increase Your Risk For High Blood Pressure?

Many factors affect your risk of developing high blood pressure. They include:

  • Heredity: To some extent, the tendency to develop high blood pressure is inherited. Black people are two to three times more likely than white people to develop high blood pressure.
  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to develop high blood pressure.
  • Body weight: High body weight and high blood pressure usually go hand in hand.
  • Activity level: The more inactive you are, the higher your blood pressure usually is.
  • Diet: For some people, high sodium intake from table salt and other sources can add fluid to the blood and raise blood pressure. Excessive alcohol intake can also raise blood pressure and make drug therapy less effective.
  • Stress: By itself, stress is not a primary cause of high blood pressure. If you already have high blood pressure, however, constant stress may help keep it high.
  • Other factors: Smoking, alcohol, and caffeine can all increase blood pressure

How You Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

If you have high blood pressure, you must work closely with your doctor to bring it down. If your blood pressure is not excessively high, your doctor may want you to try diet and lifestyle changes to control your blood pressure before prescribing antihypertensive medication. Your doctor may suggest that you:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Increase your level of physical activity. Exercise helps reduce blood pressure in two ways: it helps you lose weight and it lowers blood pressure independent of weight loss.
  • Lower your sodium, or salt, intake. For most people, reducing sodium intake from salt and other sources also lowers blood pressure.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. A diet high in potassium (found in fresh fruits and vegetables) can help lower blood pressure. Some evidence shows that a vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet can significantly lower blood pressure.
  • Manage stress.

Need To Know:

If your blood pressure is very high, your doctor may prescribe antihypertensive medications to bring your blood pressure down right away.

Nice To Know:

For most people, losing weight will bring blood pressure down to a safe level. For every one pound you lose, you can expect about a one-point drop in your diastolic blood pressure.

How-To Information:

How you can reduce sodium in your diet

Table salt (sodium plus chloride) provides most of the sodium in the American diet. The average American gets 20 times more sodium than needed each day.

To reduce your sodium intake, you must retrain your taste buds. Taste for salt is learned gradually, so it can be unlearned gradually by slowly cutting down salt in your diet. After a few weeks, the high salt foods you used to like will taste too salty.

To eat less salt, make the following changes one at a time, starting with the easiest first:

  • Salt food only after you have tasted it.
  • Move the salt shaker off the table, so you have to get up to get it if you need it.
  • Cut down on the salt used in cooking by one-third, then one-half.
  • Experiment with different flavors as salt substitutes. Try garlic, pepper, lemon, onion, wine, herbs, and spices.
  • Cut down on highly salted prepared foods such as nuts, chips, and pickles.
  • Read labels carefully. In general, prepackaged or processed foods such as canned soups, tomato juice, frozen dinners, macaroni and cheese, processed meats, and other foods are higher in sodium than their home made counterparts.

For more information about high blood pressure and how you can contro it, go to High Blood Pressure.

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