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About High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that has no symptoms you can see or feel. Having your blood pressure checked is the only way to know if it is high.

Yet, untreated hypertension can result in serious illnesses, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Diet and lifestyle changes may be enough to control mildly elevated blood pressure. But your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication and lifestyle changes if your blood pressure is moderately to severely high.

The AHA says the following lifestyle choices can help reduce your blood pressure.

Don't smoke

Inhaling cigarette smoke stimulates your heart, making it beat faster. It also narrows your blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to rise temporarily. Smoking, however, does not cause high blood pressure. The reason smoking is bad if you have high blood pressure is because both contribute to heart disease, meaning hardening of the arteries and heart attacks.

Maintain a healthy weight

Studies have found people who lose weight also lower their blood pressure. To lose weight safely, eat fewer foods high in fat and calories and increase your physical activity.

Exercise regularly

Regular aerobic exercise tones your heart, blood vessels and muscles and keeps your blood pressure low. Consult your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen if you have high blood pressure.

Learn to cope with stress

Stress may temporarily raise blood pressure, but it is not a cause of chronic high blood pressure. Meditate, listen to stress-management tapes or do relaxation exercises daily.

Drink moderately

If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Heavy, regular consumption of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically. Experts recommend no more than two drinks a day for a man and one drink a day for a woman.

Healthy eating and limit your salt intake

The DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension, is an effective eating plan proved to lower blood pressure. It doesn't require special foods; instead, it recommends a certain number of servings from a variety of food groups -- vegetables, fruits, fat-free or low-fat milk, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, and nuts. It also calls for limiting sugar, fats, and red meat, and for reducing salt (sodium) intake to 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon of table salt) or 1,500 mg (two-thirds teaspoon of table salt) daily. Following the DASH diet and keeping salt intake to 1,500 mg per day has shown the biggest benefit for blood pressure reduction in people with high blood pressure. The 2010 recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture say you should limit your sodium consumption to less than 2,300 mg per day. The daily sodium intake is 1,500 mg for African-Americans and for people diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, as well as individuals ages 51 and older. 

Take your medicine

Follow these guidelines if your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication:

  • Take all your medication as prescribed.

  • Take your pills at the same time each day.

  • Never skip your pills because you have side effects or don't believe your blood pressure is high. Call your doctor to discuss your concerns.

  • Refill your prescription before it runs out.

  • Don't stop taking your medication because your blood pressure tests normal. It's normal because you're taking the medication.

Online Resources

American Heart Association  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=1200013
American Heart Association  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2114
American Heart Association  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2673
American Heart Association  http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4750
American Heart Association  http://www.americanheart.org/print_presenter.jhtml?identifier=3004847
USDA  http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/publications/dietaryguidelines/2010/dgac/report/b-2-totaldiet.pdf#xml=
USDA  http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/publications/dietaryguidelines/2010/policydoc/execsumm.pdf
USDA  http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/food/pdfs/hhs_facts_sodium.pdf
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/hbp/index.html
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Hbp/HBP_WhatIs.html
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/dash_brief.pdf

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