Dealing with high blood pressure
Concerning Your Health
By Dr. Kinsey Shultz Piatz
What is normal blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood against your artery walls. When you have your blood pressure taken, you receive a reading that has two numbers. The top one refers to your systolic pressure, which is when the heart beats, and the bottom one measures diastolic pressure, which is when the heart relaxes between beats. A normal range is considered less than 120 for systolic and less than 80 for diastolic. Your blood pressure rises and falls continuously throughout the day. When it stays elevated over time, then you are likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
What is high blood pressure?
More than 65 million – or one in three – American adults have high blood pressure. A systolic reading of 140 or higher and a diastolic reading of 90 or higher indicate high blood pressure. If you are in the 120-139 over 80-89 range, you have prehypertension, which means you should take active steps now to avoid developing high blood pressure. The more your blood pressure raises above normal, the greater the health risk.
Why does it matter if my blood pressure is high?
High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard. The increased blood flow can harm arteries and cause organs to work too hard, causing major health problems. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, kidney disease, stroke and blindness.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
There often are no warning signs or symptoms so it’s important to have annual checkups with your doctor. Blood pressure monitors are also often available at no charge at drugstores and near pharmacies at other stores. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure now, your risk of developing it increases greatly as you age. So it’s advisable to take healthy steps at any age that can prevent developing high blood pressure or control it if you’ve already been diagnosed.
Reducing your risk factors
Practice healthy habits like physical activity most days of every week and maintain your weight in the normal range. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it’s important to take your prescribed medication as your physician has directed. Change your eating habits to incorporate the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan.
What is DASH?
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute studies have shown that blood pressure can be reduced with a diet that is low in fat and cholesterol and lowers sodium intake. In several studies, people who had high blood pressure saw the greatest reductions when they followed a nutritional plan, which has become known as the DASH eating plan. People with prehypertension also had significant decreases. All of the participants saw significant reductions in a short period.
What does DASH recommend?
DASH limits saturated fat and focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, fat-free milk products, whole grain products, fish, poultry and nuts. If you have high blood pressure, or simply want to live healthier and lower your risks, make an appointment with your physician to learn more about DASH and lifestyle changes that contribute to lower blood pressure.
Kinsey Shultz Piatz, MD, a family medicine doctor at Sanford North Mandan Clinic, has a special interest in women’s health and provides routine obstetric/prenatal care. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is a member of the American Academy of Family Practice. A graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, she completed her residency at Siouxland Medical Education Foundation in Sioux City, Iowa.