Want to Get Your High Blood Pressure Under Control? Here's How to Do It
Following these steps can lower your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health problems
Lowering high blood pressure to healthy levels has been proven to reduce a person's risk of numerous health problems, including heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage.
In spite of these benefits, however, a recent report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services states that only around half of the 75 million Americans suffering from high blood pressure have it under control.
"The fact is that high blood pressure is a leading cause of death in the U.S. and it is very poorly treated. Every year, more than 1.5 million Americans have a heart attack or stroke and high blood pressure is a key factor in those incidents," says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D.
Frieden also notes another concern. "One in six people with high blood pressure are not aware of it."
This fact is not as surprising as it may seem. Hypertension—the medical term for high blood pressure—is also known as "the silent killer" because its levels can rise without causing any symptoms.
"Many patients have sky-high blood pressure and feel completely fine until the day they have a stroke or a heart attack," Frieden says.
More unexpected is the fact that the problem can also affect children. According to a new study, instances of hypertension have risen significantly among children in parallel with the rise in obesity rates. The scientists found that, in comparison with children whose blood pressure levels are normal, those with high blood pressure did worse on tests of cognitive skills such as memory and verbal skills.
The good news is that it is possible to control hypertension both inexpensively and effectively, at least for adults. Follow the tips below to manage your blood pressure.
Know Your Numbers
In an ideal situation, your systolic blood pressure—the number on top—should be less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and your diastolic pressure—the number on the bottom—should be less than 80 mmHg.
Make sure to have your blood pressure measured by a qualified healthcare professional at least every two years. It should be checked annually if your readings are 120 over 80 or higher.
"Ask for the results, and don't assume that your healthcare provider will flag worrying numbers," says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports chief medical adviser.
According to the CDC, most people who suffer from undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertension have visited a healthcare provider at least two times over the past year.
"If your numbers are higher than normal, be proactive and discuss your risk for high blood pressure with your doctor," Lipman says.
Use a Home Monitor
For those whose readings are higher than normal, a home blood-pressure monitor is a good way to track their numbers and keep a watch over their health. It is also a good way to see if medication prescribed by your doctor is working.
Keeping and sharing a record of your home monitor results may be particularly helpful for those patients who experience nervousness or anxiety in doctors' offices, which cause their blood pressure to rise to higher-than-usual levels. This phenomenon is known as "white coat hypertension."
Change Your Lifestyle
Some of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of a patient fighting high blood pressure include eating a diet healthy for the heart, exercising, and losing weight.
For some patients, such lifestyle changes may even eliminate their need for blood pressure medicine. Patients can lower systolic blood pressure by two to eight mmHg by cutting their daily intake of salt to no more than 2,300 mg—the amount contained in a single teaspoon, and a brisk 30-minute walk daily can cut it by four to nine mmHg.
Take the Correct Amount of the Correct Medication
Doctors often prescribe a group of drugs known as thiazide diuretics—also known as "water pills"—to fight high blood pressure. However, a patient's doctor may prescribe a different kind of medicine depending on that patient's particular needs.
In combination with advice from qualified healthcare professionals, these tips can help consumers manage their high blood pressure better.