When blood pressure stays elevated over time it is called high blood pressure. The medical term for high blood pressure is hypertension.

The dangers of high blood pressure include:

• Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
• Increases risk of heart disease and stroke
• Higher risk of congestive heart failure
• Higher risk of kidney disease
• Higher risk for blindness

A blood pressure level of 140/90 mmHg or higher is considered high. A blood pressure between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg means you have prehypertension.

When you have prehypertension it means you don’t have high blood pressure now, but you are likely to develop it in the future unless you adopt healthy lifestyle changes.

High blood pressure is a condition that most people will have at some point their lives. Although both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important, for people age 50 or older, systolic pressure gives the most accurate diagnosis of high blood pressure. The top number is the systolic pressure. A top number of 140 mmHg or above is high.

Risk factors are conditions or behaviors that increase your chances of developing a disease. More than one risk factor means you have a much greater chance of developing heart disease.

Risk factors you can control include:

• High blood pressure
• Abnormal cholesterol
• Tobacco use
• Overweight
• Physical inactivity

Risk factors you cannot control include:

• Age (55 or older for men; 65 or older for women)
Family history of early heart disease (having a father or brother diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or a having a mother or sister diagnosed before age 65

One of the main risks of developing high blood pressure is being overweight. As your weight increases, so does your blood pressure. To lose 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. Losing weight has the most dramatic effect on those who are overweight and already have hypertension.

Two key measures are used to determine if someone is overweight or obese:

1. Body mass index;
2. Waist circumference

Body mass index is a measure of your weight relative to your height and gives an approximation of total body fat. High body fat is what increases the risk of diseases that are related to being overweight; however, body mass index alone does not determine the risk. This is why weight measurement is often checked as well. Too much body fat in the stomach area also increases disease risk. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches in women and more than 40 inches in men is considered high.

If you and your doctor determine you need to lose weight, it is important to do so slowly. Lose no more than ½ pound to 2 pounds per week. The best chance of long-term success and the healthiest way to lose weight is a goal of losing 10 percent of your current weight.

To lose weight means to eat fewer calories than you use up in daily activities. The number of calories you burn daily depends on factors such as your body size and how physically active you are.

One pound equals 3,500 calories. To lose 1 pound per week, you need to eat 500 calories per day less or burn 500 calories a day more than you usually do. The best is to work a combination of both eating less and being more physically active. Be aware of serving sizes as well. It is not only what you eat that adds the calories, but it is also how much you eat.

Being physically active is one of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure, and then also, reduces your risk of heart disease. All that is needed is 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most days of the week. Examples of these activities include:

• Brisk walking
• Bicycling
• Raking leaves
• Gardening

Other tips to help you prevent or control high blood pressure include:

• A healthy eating plan can help you reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower a blood pressure that is already too high
• Use more spices and less salt
• When shopping for foods, read the food labels. Sodium is found naturally in many foods, but processed foods account for most of the salt and sodium that Americans consume
• Drink alcohol in moderation or not at all
• When all the above does not work, your doctor may prescribe medication

If your doctor prescribes a medication it is important to work with your doctor to get the right drug and dose level for you. If you have side effects, tell your doctor so the drugs can be adjusted. Always take your drugs as prescribed.

It is easy to forget to take medicines. Review the following tips to help you remember to take your medicines:

• Put a favorite picture of yourself or a loved one on the refrigerator with a note that says: Remember to take your high blood pressure medicine
• Keep your high blood pressure medicine on the nightstand next to your side of the bed
• Take your high blood pressure medicine right after you brush your teeth, and keep them with your toothbrush as a reminder
• Use sticky notes in visible places to remind yourself to take your high blood pressure medicine on the refrigerator, on the bathroom mirror or on the front door
• Set up a buddy system with a friend who also is on daily medicine and arrange to call each other every day with a reminder to “take your blood pressure medicine.”
• Ask your child or grandchild to call you every day with a quick reminder
• Place your drugs in a weekly pillbox
• Program a start-up reminder on your computer to take your high blood pressure medicine
• Make a note on your calendar each day to remember to take your blood pressure medicine

It is important to work as a team with your doctor. Some questions you will need to ask and receive answers to may include:

• What is my goal blood pressure?
• What is my blood pressure reading in numbers?
• Is my systolic pressure too high (over 140)?
• What is a healthy weight for me?
• Is there a diet to help me lose weight (if needed) and lower my blood pressure?
• Is there a recommended healthy eating plan I should follow?
• Is it safe for me to start doing regular physical activity?
• Is the name of my blood pressure medicine a brand name or a generic name?
• What are the possible side effects of my medicine?
• Be sure your doctor knows about any allergies you have and any other medicines you are taking, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary supplements
• What time of day should I take my blood pressure medicine?
• Are there any foods, beverages, or dietary supplements I should avoid when taking this medicine?
• What should I do if I forget to take my blood pressure medicine at the recommended time?

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Disclaimer: *This article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any kind of a health problem. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Always consult with your health care provider about any kind of a health problem and especially before beginning any kind of an exercise routine.

This article is FREE to publish with the resource box. Article written 4-2007.

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