As our blood moves through our bodies from our hearts and feeds our vital organs, sometimes the pressure in our blood vessels is a little high. This condition is called high blood pressure or hypertension. One out of every three Americans suffers from high blood pressure. To measure your blood pressure, we use a special cuff that wraps around your arm and applies pressure. As pressure is released, a stethoscope is used to listen to the pulse made from pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and then when it relaxes.
We want that first measurement, which is the systolic pressure, to be 125 or lower and we want the second measurement, the diastolic pressure, to be 80 or less.
When you have an existing medical condition such as diabetes, your healthcare provider may want to see lower numbers.
High blood pressure is often a silent killer. Many people do not know they have high blood pressure because they have no symptoms. Often when people find out they have high blood pressure, they are already at risk of having complicated cardiovascular disease. Most people who have stroke, heart attack or congestive heart failure have already had high blood pressure for a while. High blood pressure also can lead to kidney failure and changes in your vision.
Controlling your diet and exercise are two things you can do to prevent and control high blood pressure. When we talk with patients about diet, we encourage them to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from the canned foods and the processed foods. If you can, eat fresh or frozen vegetables and prepare your own meats. Reduce consumption of fast food because you don’t have control over what other people put in your food. Avoid foods that are too sweet.
Using devices that measure your heart rate when you’re walking or running can be useful. But everyone should exercise in a way they can tolerate. If you become short of breath, dizzy and sweaty, you may need to talk to your medical provider.
In addition, you don’t want to drink alcohol in excess, and you want to stop smoking if you are smoking.
Stress also can contribute to high blood pressure. Some stress we can’t avoid. But If you can, access resources, family members, yoga, meditation or prayer to help counteract stress.
While we can control some factors that affect our blood pressure, some things you can’t change. For instance, as you grow older, you are at a higher risk of getting high blood pressure. In addition, if you are of African-American or black descent, you may be predisposed. You may have some family predisposition. But remember, you can control what you eat, your activity, alcohol consumption, smoking and help counteract stress.
LeShonda Wallace is a nurse practitioner with NHRMC Physician Specialists – Internal Medicine Specialists.