High blood pressure affects nearly half of adults age 20 and older in the United States, and many of them are unaware they have it. Left unmanaged, hypertension silently damages the body and is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Internal medicine physician Samuel Fink, MD and our team want you to know that there are steps you can take to manage your hypertension, protect your heart health, and lower your risk of dying of heart disease.
Understanding blood pressure numbers
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls. When your circulatory system is healthy, blood vessels are soft and flexible and blood flows through them easily. Because the heart doesn’t have to work hard in this case, blood pressure remains normal, which is below 120/80.
The top number (systolic pressure) represents the force against your blood vessel walls each time your heart beats. The bottom number (diastolic pressure) represents the force between beats, when your heart is at rest.
What causes hypertension?
Certain conditions, such as thyroid disease, Cushing’s syndrome, and kidney disease can cause high blood pressure, but this is less common. More often, people with hypertension have blood vessels that have lost some elasticity and are stiff and in some cases narrow. This requires the heart to work harder to circulate blood throughout the body, causing increased pressure.
Genetics appears to make some people more likely than others to develop high blood pressure. However, your genes don’t have the final say. Many factors within your control contribute to hypertension, including:
- Lack of physical activity
- Overweight and obesity
- Excess salt consumption
- Poor diet (lack of antioxidants)
- Elevated cholesterol
Habits such as smoking and excess alcohol consumption also contribute to high blood pressure.
Steps to help manage hypertension
Successfully managing high blood pressure starts with a visit to your health care provider. Following a comprehensive evaluation, Dr. Fink recommends an individualized treatment plan. Here are some tips for managing blood pressure:
Make lifestyle changes
Healthy lifestyle changes can go a long way in lowering blood pressure. This includes making it a priority to engage in regular physical activity. Exercise strengthens your heart and circulatory system and is necessary to stay healthy.
Losing weight if you’re carrying excess pounds is also important. In fact, losing even a modest amount of weight lowers blood pressure. Shedding just 5% of your body weight lowers your numbers 5-20 points, and losing more is even more beneficial.
Quitting habits like smoking and drinking too much alcohol are equally as important. Both of these lifestyle habits damage blood vessels and have a negative impact on heart health.
Rethink your diet
Boosting your intake of fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits and cutting back on high-sodium foods is a good approach to using nutrition therapy to lower blood pressure. The foods you regularly eat have a significant impact on your overall health, including your blood pressure.
Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a good place to start if you need some guidance on changing your eating habits. The DASH diet emphasizes vegetables, fruits, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish, poultry, and nuts. These foods are low in sodium and rich in minerals that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Take medication as directed
Sometimes, blood pressure remains persistently elevated despite diet and lifestyle changes. You may need anti-hypertensive medication in addition to changes to your diet and lifestyle in order to adequately control high blood pressure. There are several classes of anti-hypertensive medications:
- Calcium channel blockers
- ACE inhibitors
- Beta blockers
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers
These medications work in different ways to relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Keeping your blood pressure controlled minimizes your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Know your numbers
Knowing your numbers is key to staying on top of your heart health. Getting regular checkups for blood pressure and other key markers such as cholesterol is vital for staying healthy. Forming a strong partnership with your health care provider is the best way to stay as healthy as possible.
If you have hypertension or are at risk, or if you want to know your numbers, we can help. To schedule a heart health checkup with Dr. Fink, call our office in Tarzana, California, or request an appointment online today.