Hypertension Library

What is Hypertension?

Who gets Hypertension?

Care of Hypertension


Hypertension Index

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Online learning resources for diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and nutrition.
Diabetes 101: Learn more about diabetes, managing your blood sugar levels, and your diet.
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Hypertension Library: Care of Hypertension

How to Prevent High Blood Pressure

How is blood pressure checkedWhat if just the first number is highHow can you prevent high blood pressureWhat else might prevent high blood pressureOther factorsSummary

How Is Blood Pressure Checked?

Having your blood pressure checked is quick, easy, and painless. Your blood pressure is measured with an instrument called a sphygmomanometer (sfig-mo-ma-nom-e-ter).

It works like this: A blood pressure cuff is wrapped around your upper arm and inflated to stop the blood flow in your artery for a few seconds. A valve is opened and air is then released from the cuff and the sounds of your blood rushing through an artery are heard through a stethoscope. The first sound heard and registered on the gauge or mercury column is called the systolic blood pressure. It represents the maximum pressure in the artery produced as the heart contracts and the blood begins to flow. The last sound heard as more air is released from the cuff is the diastolic blood pressure. It represents the lowest pressure that remains within the artery when the heart is at rest.

Your blood pressure measurement may be taken several times. You may be asked to stand one time and sit another. If your blood pressure is high the first day, the doctor will want measurements from different days before deciding whether you really have high blood pressure. These steps are needed because blood pressure changes so quickly. Also, it is affected by many things, including the normal feelings of worry during a visit to the doctor (white-coat hypertension).

Because HBP is so common, everyone should have his or her blood pressure tested once a year. Blood pressure readings are given in two numbers. Although the average blood pressure reading for adults is 120/80, a slightly higher or lower reading (for either number) may not be a problem. If blood pressure goes above 140/90, however, some form of treatment — diet or drugs — may be needed. Lower blood pressure readings (for example, 110/70) are thought to be safe for most people.

What If Just The First Number Is High?

Often in older adults the first number (the upper or systolic number) is high while the second (the lower or diastolic) number is normal. This condition is called isolated systolic hypertension, and it should be treated. Studies prove that lowering the systolic number cuts down on strokes and heart attacks in people age 60 and over.

How Can You Prevent High Blood Pressure?

Everyone — regardless of race, age, sex, or heredity — can help lower their chance of developing high blood pressure. Here's how:

1) Maintain a healthy weight and lose weight if you are overweight

2) Be more physically active

3) Choose foods lower in salt and sodium

4) If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation

These rules are also recommended for treating high blood pressure, although medicine is often added as part of the treatment. It is far better to keep your blood pressure from getting high in the first place.

Another important measure for your health is to not smoke. While cigarette smoking is not directly related to high blood pressure, it increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Here are four rules to prevent high blood pressure and for keeping a healthy heart:

1) Maintain a healthy weight, lose weight if you are overweight.

As your body weight increases, your blood pressure rises. In fact, being overweight can make you two to six times more likely to develop high blood pressure than if you are at your desirable weight. Keeping your weight in the desirable range is not only important to prevent high blood pressure but also for your overall health and well being.

It's not just how much you weigh that's important, where your body stores extra fat also counts. Your shape is inherited from your parents just like the color of your eyes or hair. Some people tend to gain weight around their belly, others around the hips and thighs. "Apple-shaped" people who have a potbelly (that is, extra fat at the waist) appear to have higher health risks than "pear-shaped" people with heavy hips and thighs.

No matter where the extra weight is, you can reduce your risk of high blood pressure by losing weight. Even small amounts of weight loss can make a big difference in helping to prevent high blood pressure. Losing weight, if you are overweight and already have high blood pressure, can also help lower your pressure.

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. But don't go on a crash diet to see how quickly you can lose those pounds. The healthiest and longest-lasting weight loss happens when you do it slowly, losing 1/2 to one pound a week. By cutting back by 500 calories a day and being more physically active, you can lose about one pound (which equals 3,500 calories) in a week.

Losing weight and keeping it off involves a new way of eating and increasing physical activity for life. The following are some suggestions to help get you on your way to a lower weight.

Choose foods low in calories and fat. Naturally, choosing low-calorie foods cuts calories. But did you know that choosing foods low in fat also cuts calories? Fat is a concentrated source of calories, so eating fewer fatty foods will reduce calorie intake. Some examples of fatty foods to cut down on include: butter, margarine, regular salad dressings, fatty meats, skin of poultry, whole milk dairy foods like cheese, fried foods, cookies, cakes, pastries and snacks. See the list below for low fat foods that you can enjoy instead.

• Chicken and turkey, baked broiled or poached (without the skin)

• Fish

• Lean cuts of meat like round or sirloin

• Skim, 1%, or evaporated skim milk and lower-fat, low-sodium cheeses.

• Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.

• Fresh, frozen, or canned (no salt added) vegetables (without cream or cheese sauces).

• Plain rice and pasta, English muffins, bagels, sandwich breads and rolls, and soft tortillas.

• Cold (ready-to-eat) cereals, lower in sodium and cooked hot cereals (not instant since they are higher in sodium).

Note: When choosing cheeses, breads, and cereals, use the food label to choose those lower in fat and sodium.

Choose foods high in starch and fiber. Foods high in starch and fiber, like those shown on the list, are excellent substitutes for foods high in fat. They are lower in calories than foods high in fat. These foods are also good sources of vitamins and minerals.

Foods high in Starch and/or fiber

Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain cereals, pasta and rice, whole-grain breads, dry peas and beans.

Note: Use the food label to choose breads and cereals lower in sodium.

Limit serving sizes. To lose weight, it's not just the type of foods you eat that's important, but also the amount. To take in fewer calories, you need to limit your portion sizes. Try to take smaller helpings of high calorie foods such as high fat meats and cheeses. And try not to go back for seconds.

Here's a good tip to help you control or change your eating habits: Keep track of what you eat, when you eat, and why, by writing it down. Note whether you snack on high fat foods in front of the television, or if you skip breakfast and then eat a large lunch. Once you see your habits, you can set goals for yourself: cut back on TV snacks and, when you do snack, hav

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