Written By: American Heart Association
Managing blood pressure can be as tricky as it is crucial to your health. High blood pressure, or hypertension, contributes to a range of health problems, such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Treatments range from simple diet changes to a variety of medications.
High blood pressure is both harmful – it’s known as the “silent killer” because symptoms often go undetected with fatal consequences – and common. Nearly half of US adults (about 116 million) suffer from it. It’s defined as a systolic reading (top number) of 130 or higher or a diastolic reading (bottom number) of 80 or higher, that stays high over time.
“High blood pressure leads to an increase in the risk of developing coronary artery disease, heart attacks, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and kidney failure,” said Dr. Marwan Nasif, a cardiologist with Lake Health. “In the long term, poorly controlled high blood pressure destroys the kidney tissues and leads to fibrosis of the kidneys and renal failure.”
HBP tends to creep up with age. Among women ages 20 to 34, 13% have hypertension; nearly 86% have the condition by their mid-70s. Men see a similar trajectory over that same time, increasing from about 26% to 80%.
“Although high blood pressure is more prevalent in the older population, we often see it in younger patients,” Dr. Nasif said. “In general, it is recommended to measure blood pressure at least once yearly in all adults after age 18.”
Race is another risk factor. The prevalence of HBP for black adults in the US is among the highest in the world. Almost 59% of black men and 56% of black women have hypertension, compared to 48% and 41% for white men and women, respectively.
Whatever your age or ethnicity, a few healthy lifestyle changes can be the best defense against hypertension: Eat right, exercise, reach and maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke.
Reducing sodium in your diet is also a key component. Too much salt in the bloodstream pulls water into blood vessels, which in turn increases the volume of blood inside them. An increase in blood pressure can strain vessel walls, speed the buildup of blockages (plaque) and tire the heart by forcing it to work harder to pump blood.
Exercise can help moderate blood pressure. The American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, such as walking, cycling or even dancing.
Being overweight puts extra strain on the heart, increasing the risk for developing hypertension. Even slight weight loss of five to 10 pounds may lower blood pressure.
While the link between smoking and HBP is still being studied, both smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), a process that HBP is known to accelerate. Smoking also causes a temporary increase in blood pressure.
Lifestyle changes aren’t always enough to control high blood pressure. Medications for HBP include diuretics, to rid the body of excess salt; beta-blockers, which reduce the heart’s workload; and ACE inhibitors, which help blood vessels relax, which, in turn, lowers blood pressure.
“Most people will need at least two medications to control their blood pressure,” Dr. Nasif said. “Combining two different medications in one pill helps compliance with treatment.”