Did you know high blood pressure contributes to 15% of deaths in the United States alone? High blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and blood vessel problems such as aneurysms. It pays to “know your numbers” and know as much as you can about high blood pressure. Here are some surprising facts about hypertension you should know.
It’s Important to Measure Your Blood Pressure in Both Arms
When you visit your doctor do they measure your blood pressure in both arms? A new study shows a blood pressure difference of 10 mm. Hg or greater between the two arms is linked with a greater risk for heart problems including heart attacks. This applies to systolic blood pressure, the upper number.
Systolic blood pressure is a measure of the pressure when your heart is actively contracting. Diastolic blood pressure (the lower number) is a measure of the force when the heart relaxes. When you visit your doctor, they may only measure it in one arm. Next time, ask them to measure it in both.
About 30% of People with Hypertension Don’t Know They Have It
Surprised by this statistic? Hypertension is a silent disease. You can go for years without knowing you have it. Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t experience symptoms unless their blood pressure is very high. Despite the absence of symptoms, high blood pressure silently damages your heart and blood vessels.
When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to pump against more resistance. As a result, it has to enlarge to push against the added resistance. This increases your risk for heart problems including heart failure. Blood vessels throughout your body become damaged too. When the blood vessels that carry oxygen to your brain are damaged, your risk for stroke goes up too.
Even Mild Increases in Blood Pressure Increase Your Risk for Stroke
If your blood pressure is “borderline,” you might be tempted to ignore it. Don’t. A new study published in the journal Neurology showed even mild elevations in blood pressure increase your risk for stroke. In this meta-analysis, researchers looked at 19 different studies involving over 760,000 people to reach this conclusion. How high is too high?
High blood pressure is defined as a systolic blood pressure (upper number) of 140 and over or a diastolic blood pressure (lower number) of 90 or greater. This study showed systolic blood pressures higher than 120 and diastolic pressures greater than 80 are linked with a 66% greater risk for stroke. Systolic blood pressure is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts while diastolic pressure is the pressure when your heart relaxes.
What does this mean? Take even mild elevations in your blood pressure seriously and work towards bringing it down to below 120/80 mmHg. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need medication. Borderline high blood pressure will often respond to lifestyle changes. Some ways to lower your blood pressure naturally include:
Stress management techniques – yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, listen to relaxing music
Eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed food
Cut back on sodium in your diet
Eat dark chocolate (about 3.5 ounces a day)
Get enough potassium in your diet
Even if you make lifestyle changes, see your doctor so they can closely monitor you.
Diet Makes a Difference in Reducing High Blood Pressure
People underestimate the importance of diet in lowering blood pressure. Following a DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension) can lower your systolic blood pressure as much as 12 points. The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods. For meat, the emphasis is on fish, poultry and vegetarian protein sources. It de-emphasizes red meat, full-fat dairy, processed foods, and added sugar. The DASH diet naturally reduces the amount of sodium in your diet (as long as you hold the salt shaker). Plus, it’s rich in calcium and magnesium, two minerals important for blood pressure control.
People that eat a DASH diet and lose weight, if they’re overweight, usually notice a significant drop in blood pressure. The drop is often comparable to blood pressure medications, without the side effects. Both Numbers Count When It Comes to Your Health
Some people assume if one of their two numbers – diastolic or systolic blood pressure is within the normal range, they don’t need to worry. Both of these numbers count when it comes to your risk for health problems. If either number is too high, you need to bring it down.
The Bottom Line?
Keeping your blood pressure under control can save your life by preventing a number of health problems including heart disease and stroke. Hypertension affects every organ in your body by its effect on your blood vessels. Keep track of your blood pressure and make the lifestyle changes needed to keep it under control.
Eurekalert. “New Study Presents Evidence That Blood Pressure Should Be Measured in Both Arms”
Neurology. “Prehypertension and the Risk of Stroke” (2014)
Prevention. “13 Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally”
WebMD. “Dark Chocolate May Lower Blood Pressure”
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