High blood pressure: Those are three troublesome words to hear from your doctor. But if you
do hear them, don't fear. Just remember these three facts:
- It's a good thing you found out.
- You're not alone.
- There are lots of things you can do to bring high blood pressure down.
Why it's good to know
High blood pressure, or hypertension, doesn't have symptoms in its
early stages, says Daniel Jones, MD, a past president of the
American Heart Association (AHA). Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, according
to the AHA. But with no symptoms, it can be hard to know you have it.
You might not know yourself, if not for the test you had. So it's a
good thing you're aware. Now you can put that knowledge into action
and take steps to protect your health.
Blood pressure facts
Now that you've been diagnosed, here's what you need to know about
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood pushing against your blood vessel walls.
It's measured in two numbers: systolic, which is listed first, and
diastolic, which is listed second. Systolic is the pressure when your
heart beats, and diastolic is the pressure between beats.
Blood pressure is considered normal when it's below 120/80 mm Hg. People
with a systolic level of 120 to 129 systolic—and a normal diastolic
level—are considered to have
elevated blood pressure.
Hypertension stage 1 means you have a systolic pressure of 130 to 139 or a diastolic pressure
of 80 to 89.
Hypertension stage 2 means you have a systolic pressure of 140 or higher or a diastolic pressure
of 90 or higher.
Pressure that's too high boosts the workload of your heart and arteries,
increasing your risk for clogging of the arteries, heart attack, heart
failure and stroke.
Taking steps to bring your levels down, however, reduces your risk for
all of these problems.
Getting it under control
Treating hypertension is usually a collaborative effort between you and
your healthcare provider, Dr. Jones says.
"You'll come up with a management plan appropriate for you," he says.
In most cases, the plan will include making lifestyle changes such as:
Managing your weight. If you're overweight or obese, losing weight helps reduce strain on
Eating better and limiting salt. Too much salt, or sodium, in your diet can boost blood pressure. Avoid
sodium-filled food, and cut back on the amount of salt you use in cooking.
Your doctor also may advise following the DASH (dietary approaches to
stop hypertension) diet, Dr. Jones says. This is an eating plan designed
to bring down blood pressure levels. It stresses choosing a diet that's
low in saturated fat and added sugar but high in fruits, vegetables and
Keeping fit. Regular exercise can reduce both systolic and diastolic levels by about
five to ten points, the
American College of Sports Medicine reports. Even if that's not enough to bring your pressure to normal
levels, staying fit can offer other health benefits such as weight control
and a reduced risk for heart attack and stroke. Get your doctor's
advice on incorporating exercise into your life.
Not smoking. Nicotine from cigarettes causes blood vessels to narrow and your heart
to beat faster, boosting your blood pressure and your risk for heart attack
and stroke. Your doctor can recommend a stop-smoking program and prescribe
medications to help you quit.
"Some people can control blood pressure simply by making lifestyle
changes," Dr. Jones says. "But others also may need to take
There are several different types of blood pressure-lowering medications.
If necessary, your doctor will prescribe one appropriate for you.
If you're prescribed a medicine, use it as directed and don't stop
using it without talking to your doctor first. Sometimes it takes several
weeks for your body to adjust before a medicine starts working well.
The AHA offers these further suggestions for keeping blood pressure under control:
Know your numbers. Get your blood pressure checked regularly so you can monitor how well
your management plan is working. Your doctor can tell you how often to
get your levels checked.
Keep doctor's appointments. Regular doctor visits are part of staying healthy. Let your doctor know
how you're doing in terms of lifestyle changes. Voice any questions you have.
Live life! While you may need to make a few adjustments, having high blood pressure
shouldn't get in the way living an enjoyable life. Stay positive.
"Hypertension is a serious condition, but there's so much you
can do to control it. Knowing that should help put you at ease,"
Dr. Jones says.