Spotlight on High Blood Pressure: The 'Silent Killer'

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Happy May! Have you moved past the ''resolution'' phase and established a consistent diet and exercise routine?  Hopefully your new lifestyle consists of healthy habits and you are really starting to get a feel for what it takes to make a permanent lifestyle change.   If you aren’t quite there yet, it’s OK.  Bumps in the road are expected! Continue to try to make more good choices than poor choices and reevaluate your plan on a regular basis. 

Today is a great day to look over your plan and make sure that everything is working well for you.  If you are having trouble with maintaining consistency and sticking to it, ask yourself if it’s time to do some tweaking.  Perhaps you are still not getting to the gym 3-4 times a week as you initially promised yourself. If that's the case, then maybe it’s time to start a home workout regimen.  Consider enlisting the help of a personal trainer in order to add some accountability and to shake up your routine.  If you still have trigger foods in your kitchen, it’s time to finally get rid of them!  Leaving your triggers in your home and attempting to avoid them saps your willpower and leaves you empty when you are faced with other challenges that you can’t control.  Commit to being consistent!  I will now step off my soap box and move on to discuss a condition that you can help prevent by getting into a consistent healthy routine.

 May is National Stroke and High Blood Pressure month! On May 11, 1989 Present George Bush signed a presidential proclamation designating May as National Stroke Awareness Month.  The month of May is also designated as High Blood Pressure education month, which is appropriate since high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most important risk factor for stroke. 

Stroke affects approximately 795,000 Americans per year.  A stroke can occur at all stages of life and is the fourth largest cause of death in the United States.  There are 7 million stroke survivors living in America and stroke is a leading cause of disability.  High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke. 

Like many of my thoughts on the concepts of ''diet and exercise,'' I believe it is vital to illuminate underlying causes of bad outcomes.  So, I would like to focus on high blood pressure, which is also known as the ''silent killer.''

What is blood pressure?  High blood pressure is a condition that typically does not cause symptoms and, if left untreated, can cause strokes, heart attacks, and kidney disease.  Technically, blood pressure is the pressure inside your arteries (the pipes that carry oxygenated blood).  In a blood pressure reading, the top number (systolic) is the pressure when the heart is contracting and the bottom number (diastolic) is when the heart is relaxed.  If your blood pressure is too high, over time (typically over years) the arteries become weak and damaged, causing the disease that can lead to strokes, heart disease, and kidney disease.    

What is normal blood pressure?  Ideal blood pressure is less than 120/80, but high blood pressure is currently defined as having a blood pressure of greater than 140/90.  Those with blood pressure somewhere is the middle are labeled as having prehypertension and are at risk for developing high blood pressure and its complications. 

What makes high blood pressure so dangerous?  High blood pressure is a silent killer because it can lurk for many years without causing any symptoms.  Untreated high blood pressure in your 20s or 30s may not become symptomatic until your 40s or 50s.  Detecting and treating high blood pressure now is an investment in your future health. 

How many Americans are affected by high blood pressure?  1 in 3 adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure.  Unfortunately, only about 48 percent of them who know they have it actually have the condition under control.   So, it is important to ask your doctor why your blood pressure is not regulating if you are taking medications and are still not within normal range. 

Why should you want to have normal blood pressure?  Knowing your blood pressure and making sure that it stays within the normal range is an investment in your future.  Years of exposure to high blood pressure will damage your blood vessels and cause future disease.  If you have already had complications of high blood pressure, getting it under control will decrease the risk of recurrent events.  Due to genetics and other conditions, there are people who will have elevated blood pressure despite doing everything by the book and they will still need to take medications.  If you are thinking that you will just take medications to control high blood pressure if you get it, rethink your logic.  Many of the blood pressure medications have side effects that are not fun to deal with. 

What lifestyle changes I can make to improve my blood pressure? The following habits have all been associated with lowering blood pressure: Losing weight, exercising at least 30 minutes on most days of the week, lowering sodium intake, limiting alcohol intake (no more than two drinks per day), and choosing a balanced diet that avoids processed foods and focuses on fruits and vegetable, lean meats, and whole grains.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure?  Knowledge is power, and the first thing you have to do is to know your blood pressure.  For those of you with normal blood pressure, it is important to continue to monitor it at least yearly to catch any upward trends early on.  If you are on blood pressure medications, it is important to take them as prescribed and to not let your prescription run out.  Running out of your blood pressure medication can lead to a potentially harmful withdrawal response that can dramatically increase your blood pressure. 

The bottom line:  High blood pressure can silently harm your body for years and cause disease in multiple organ systems.  Know your numbers and practice healthy lifestyle habits in order to minimize your risk of future disease.  If you already are diagnosed with high blood pressure, take your medications as prescribed and continue to live your life to the fullest!

Never give up and keep Sparking, everyone! 

What are you doing to keep your blood pressure in check?