Good blood pressure vital to health

High blood pressure was recently named one of the top three most diagnosed illnesses in the Cayman Islands by the 2010 census.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a widely misunderstood and often ignored medical condition. For example, some people think only those who are tense and nervous have high blood pressure, but the truth is that even calm and relaxed persons are at risk, too.

Often called the “silent killer”, high blood pressure can permanently damage your heart, brain, eyes, and kidneys before you are even diagnosed or feel any symptoms. While there are common traits, habits, or behaviours (known as risk factors) for high blood pressure there are many healthy steps you can take now to prevent or control this condition.

When the heart beats it creates a pressure that pushes blood, oxygen, and other nutrients through a network of tube-shaped arteries and veins, also known as blood vessels. The top number (or systolic blood pressure) measures the force of the heart pumping blood into the arteries.

The bottom number (or diastolic blood pressure) measures the force within the blood vessel as the heart rests in between beats. Blood pressure rises and falls through out the course of a day.

However, when blood pressure stays elevated over time, it is called high blood pressure (or hypertension).

“Over time, high blood pressure can damage the walls of the arteries, contributing to the plaque formation (or atherosclerosis),” said Dr. Mikhail Kosiborod, a cardiologist at The Heart Health Centre. “This blood vessel damage can lead to heart attacks and strokes. In addition, high blood pressure is also a risk factor for causing damage to small vessels in kidneys and eyes, and for irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation.”

The American Heart Association defines normal blood pressure as less than 120/80mmHg. Blood pressures that fall consistently just above normal levels, between 120-139mmHg (systolic) and 80-89mmHg (diastolic) are pre-hypertensive. High blood pressure is measured as greater than 140mmHg (systolic) and 90mmHg (diastolic).

You should have your blood pressure checked each regular health care visit or at least once every two years if your blood pressure is normal. If you are pre-hypertensive or have high blood pressure, discuss with your primary health care physician a plan to reduce and monitor your blood pressure levels on a regular basis.

Lowering blood pressure

If you have normal blood pressure or pre-hypertension, adopting healthy lifestyle habits now will help to prevent you from developing high blood pressure. If you’ve already been diagnosed, you can control your high blood pressure and minimise its harmful effects by following the same healthy steps, taking your medication as prescribed, and monitoring your blood pressure regularly.

Lower your blood pressure by aiming for a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Your blood pressure rises as your body weight increases. Losing weight has the most effect on those who are overweight and already have hypertension. Know your body mass index and waist circumference numbers. Check out free online resources, attend a community health check, visit your physician or a dietician to determine these numbers and create a weight loss plan.

Lower your blood pressure by being active. Being active is one of the most important ways you can prevent or control high blood pressure. You can do it. All you need is 30 minutes of moderate-physical activity on most days of the week. Shoot for at least five days per week. Walking is a safe effective form of exercise. You can start today with a pair of good walking shoes and a bottle of water.

Lower your blood pressure by eating well. Choose to eat fresh colourful fruits and vegetables with each meal. Include lean meats like skinless chicken or fish, low fat dairy, and whole grain products. Make a habit of eating two or more meatless meals a week. Limit foods high in sugar, fat, and salt.

“For patients with high blood pressure, salt intake is perhaps the most important dietary intervention, and is extremely effective for blood pressure control”, said Dr. Kosiborod. The majority of the salt intake comes from processed foods (canned or frozen items from the grocery store) and foods prepared in restaurants or delis. Salt has a direct effect on your blood pressure. A high salt diet can cause your body to retain extra fluid and increase your blood pressure.

Prepare your meals at home as much as possible. Use more spices like basil, chilli powder, garlic, rosemary, curry, ginger, sage, and thyme to create tasty dishes. Drink alcohol in moderation. Drinking too much alcohol can also raise blood pressure. The recommended amount for women is one drink per day and two drinks per day for men – a drink is 12 ounce beer, 5oz of wine or 1.5 oz of liquor.

Lower your blood pressure by visiting your physician regularly and taking your medications as prescribed. If you have high blood pressure, a healthy lifestyle might not be enough. Discuss with your health care provider which medications will work best for you.

Many people need to take two or more blood pressure medications to bring their blood pressure down to a healthy level. It’s easy to forget to take medications. Set reminders for yourself and aim to take your medication/s at the same time each day. Some over-the counter drugs such as cold, arthritis/pain medications, and dietary supplements can raise your blood pressure. Be sure to tell your doctor or pharmacist about any non-prescription drugs you may be taking.

Taking ownership of your health is critical to preventing and controlling high blood pressure. It’s smart to start protecting yourself now, no matter what your blood pressure numbers are.

Jodie Kelley, RN, is an education and programme coordinator based in Cayman Islands.

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