High blood pressure is a complex problem, and in most cases its causes are still unknown. Only about 5 to 10% of cases can be attributed to known health problems, such as kidney disease. Yet health experts can identify people with increased risk.
Family History of High Blood Pressure-There's a genetic tendency for high blood pressure. If there's been a woman under age sixty-five or a man under age fifty-five related to you in your family with hypertension or heart disease, your chances are higher.
Overweight - Extra body fat, especially around the waist and midriff, increases the risk for high blood pressure. Excessive weight puts more strain on the heart.
Age - For many people, blood pressure goes up as they get older. For men it is sooner, perhaps starting by ages forty-five to fifty. Women often are protected through menopause; for them, high blood pressure often starts about seven to ten years later. Even if you don't have high blood pressure at age fifty-five, you have a 90% chance of developing it during your lifetime!
Sodium-Sensitivity - For many, an eating plan that's high in sodium may contribute to high blood pressure. There's no way to predict whose blood pressure may be sodium sensitive. Just in case, healthy normal adults are advised to limit sodium to less than 2,300 milligrams daily. For those with high blood pressure, and middle-aged and older adults, the advice is: no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily. For everyone, consume more potassium-rich foods to help blunt sodium's effect on blood pressure.
Smoking & Too much Drinking - Smoking makes your heart work harder and raises your blood pressure. Heavy drinking may increase the risk for high blood pressure, too.
Diabetes - People with diabetes may develop high blood pressure if their condition isn't managed carefully - another reason to control diabetes from its first diagnosis. Up to 65% of people with diabetes have it.
High Blood Lipids - If your blood lipids are high, they contribute to hypertension as well as to atherosclerosis.
Prehypertension - Even if your blood pressure is between 120/80 to 139/89 mm Hg, be cautious. With prehypertension you'll likely develop high blood pressure later on. Take steps now to prevent it with healthful food and lifestyle choices.
Not Too "Pressured"
Having a family history of high blood pressure doesn't necessarily mean you'll get it. And you can take preventive steps to lower your odds. In fact, many of the Dietary Guidelines promote blood pressure control and protect against hypertension!
- If you have a few pounds to shed, do so. Losing even 10 pounds, through smart eating and physical activity, may bring your blood pressure down - perhaps enough to avoid medication. As part of your weight loss plan, low-fat eating lowers blood lipid levels, too - a benefit to heart health and diabetes management.
- Fit in regular moderate to vigorous physical activity, at least 30 minutes a day, on most days. Sedentary living doesn't cause high blood pressure, but regular aerobic activity such as brisk walking, swimming, or biking may help bring it down. Moreover, physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat less salt, to help limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. Put the salt shaker away. Use Nutrition Facts on food labels to find packaged foods with less sodium. Ask restaurants to go easy on the salt in the foods you order.
- Put dairy foods and other calcium-rich foods on the "menu". Three minerals - calcium, magnesium, and potassium - help regulate blood pressure. Calcium, and perhaps magnesium and potassium, which are all found in dairy foods, appear to be protective. See No conclusive evidence shows that calcium and magnesium supplements offer extra benefits.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Refer to the DASH eating plan. The potassium and magnesium found in many fruits and vegetables may help control your blood pressure. Follow the DASH eating plan, established by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan emphasizes food rather than nutrients for lowering blood pressure. It puts more emphasis on fruits and vegetables. It also advises low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, lean meat, poultry, and fish, and whole grains.
- Go easy on alcoholic beverages - if you drink. No more than one drink a day for women, and two for men, appears safe. Alcoholic drinks may interfere with medication for hypertension.
What to do if you have High Blood Pressure?
Relax. Although it's a lifelong condition, you can control high blood pressure and live a long, healthy life. The key is following your doctor's advice faithfully. Treatment likely will include a shift in your eating approach, weight loss (if you're overweight), more physical activity, smoking cessation (if you smoke), and perhaps blood pressure medication.
- Make a plan of action with your healthcare provider, following the advice given in "Not Too Pressured". Get help for adopting the DASH eating plan.
- If your doctor prescribes anti hypertensive medication, take it faithfully. If other tactics, like weight loss, lower your blood pressure level, taking medication may not be forever. Follow directions for medications carefully. Different blood pressure medications work in different ways; some may interact with other medications - for example, for diabetes or kidney disease.
- If your doctor prescribes a sodium-modified diet, a registered dietitian can help you plan, follow through, and monitor your sodium intake.
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